Looking at the funky-ass cover shot to this CD and chuckling at a cheezy shot of the sort of cheap old bargain-basement cassette used during the glory days of DIY chronicled by OP, Sound Choice, and OPtion (two of which I wrote for, though the lattermost never even knew it), I thought "Ha! This is going to be a chance to have a laff at some half-talent who thinks it's still the 80s!". So I tossed the CD in the player, carved a smirk in my own face, crossing confident arms like an arrogant college prof, and then Craig Hartley and his amphetamine piano came hurtling out of the speakers so furiously that I had to sprint out of the house, hair on fire, to catch my breath and slow down a pounding pulse. Sweet Jesus, can this guy play!
The gent is only 31 but will have Jarrett and Corea stepping back, uttering a daunted "Whoa!"…if they haven't already. Books on Tape, Vol. 1 is, unbelievably, Hartley's debut but there's a reason for that. He obviously wanted everything so tightly packed that none—critic, player, bandleader, or even just a hobo wandering into the nightclub to get out of the rain—could get in a word of derision or criticism, and so spent years and years studying under Jackie McLean, Joe Chambers, Gerry Dial, and Andy Laverne while playing with—hold onto your wig!—Anthony Braxton, Eddie Henderson, Claudio Roditi, and others. Hang on a sec, let me catch my breath again.
None of the rest of the CD is purely cyclonic like Dial 411 but everything is just as invested in explorations, expansions, inversions, and post-bop Songbook-grounded melodics, this time allowing one to more sedately contemplate the many complicated structures without risking a trip to the hospital. Hartley's inventions wander all over the place while keeping elongated narratives well in sight. The degree of free-spiritedness amid discipline is perhaps the most compelling element among many components. Bassist Carlo de Rosa and drummer Henry Cole are always on the dime, surrounding Hartley like a well-tailored suit, and trumpeter Fabio Morgera drops in for a couple tunes, raising the ambience a bit, but this is actually a showcase for a talent, Hartley's, that is going to need little introduction once Books on Tape, Vol. 1 is circulated among the cognoscenti. Doors will open like magic.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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