Monday, February 25, 2013

Ken Hatfield Sextet, For Langston

February 1st of this month marked the release of guitarist-composer-arranger Ken Hatfield's For Langston (Arthur Circle Music 6854). It's an ambitious song cycle honoring Renaissance Harlem's poet laureate Langston Hughes. February 1st also marks Langston's would-be birthday.

It's a sextet performing music set to the poetry of Hughes, covering a wide range of poems and creating a modern, somewhat cool jazz ambiance that fits the exceptional wordplay without attempting a completely literal correspondence between the two.

The sextet showcases the vocal presence of Hilary Gardner, who has a pleasing, musical way about her. Ken Hatfield's nylon stringed acoustic guitar has plenty of space and solo time, which he puts to good use. The striking sound world of Jamie Baum's alto flute brings a third solo voice into the mix and she responds with nicely turned phrasing and a beautiful sound. The group is grounded by solid rhythm section work from Hans Glawischnig, Jeff Hirschfield and Steven Kroon, on bass, drums and percussion.

What results is a series of memorable songs, well sung and well played, that get the deepening of Langston Hughes's thoughtfully expressive poetry as the basis of it all. It's not asphalt jungle anguish so much as lyrical homage. Once you get with the premises, there is very much good music to enjoy. I am sure there are more than a few songs here that could stand fully erect on their own in new versions by other artists.

It's an absorbing listen. The songs, the poetry and the improvisation work together nicely.

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