Hatfield has released “12 Preludes for Solo Guitar” in a combined book/CD format (Arthur Circle Music KHSG104BCD). The CD can be purchased separately but don’t.
The book contains, of course, the music for the 12 preludes but also a fine introduction by Hatfield wherein he describes his notation of pitch durations in arpeggios (the same used by Johannes Brahms in his late piano solos. Don’t be impressed. I learned it from Hatfield), the modal indicators of key signatures and more. All that to say, Hatfield will teach you something. He writes of the beginnings of the prelude and its place within music history. He speaks of Chopin, Debussy, Villa-Lobos and so many others. He is a fine educator, even if you are reading for fun.
The book contains a small biography and, perhaps most importantly, his discography and bibliography of his written works. Yes, you will want to reference those pages early and often.
Then there are the transcriptions of the 12 preludes themselves. What a gift to other guitarists and to all musicians.
Forearmed with the knowledge within all those written pages, get ready for the music.
“Prelude #1” is a lovely and warm 3/4-time piece that seems as at-home in the world of Classical guitar as much as Jazz. It does recall the acoustic sounds of some of the great guitarists of Jazz but Hatfield has developed a touch and a tone that is absolutely wonderful and most assuredly his own. The prelude is full of reflection and thought. Touching.
“Prelude #2” has a quirky, if not haunting, ostinato that is a great hook. Only slightly slower than the previous track, the e minor prelude is a remarkable piece full of imagery and its own charm.
“Prelude #3” is in 6/8 but is a more melodically simple track that truly does sound like an introduction (as preludes were first intended until Chopin began making them finished pieces. I got that from Hatfield, too). The Baroque feel of this prelude enhances that impression as introductory in function.
“Prelude #4” is a structural Blues approach to the prelude and is one of the best examples of Hatfield’s crossover from composition to improvisation and back again. This was one to hear over and again.
“Prelude #5” is noted in E Major but with so many cool minor tones. Compositionally speaking, it is one of the most interesting of the pieces. The phrasing is exquisite and absolutely captivating.
“Prelude #6” jumps out as a samba after the brief but beautiful introduction. The Samba is everything you love about Brazilian music, in the first place. The lively chords and bouncy tempo are enough to cheer Eyore.
“Prelude #7” is a gorgeous piece that sings of loving absence, perhaps even regret. It is unspeakably sad and full of longing and loss. Even the hearing brings to mind one’s own memories and regrets. It becomes a shared grief between artist and audience.
“Prelude #8” is a more cheerful-sounding piece. It almost like a walk in a park with passing images and joyful sounds.
“Prelude #9” is a quick piece, with flashing sights and sounds, that puts one in mind of a city scene. Odd meters and chords at odds make for a bustling, sometimes cacophonous view. I love the intro and the conclusion.
“Prelude #10” is a Romantic-feeling piece, full of emotion and movement. It is hopeful and optimistic and hastily moving to completion in its quest for joy.
“Prelude #11” is an elegiac turn at a serenade. It is memorable and thought-provoking. Lovely.
“Prelude #12” concludes the splendid album. Villa-Lobos and Steve Howe can have a seat. The nylon strings of Hatfield’s 1991 Humphrey Millennium guitar evoke—perhaps provoke—deep emotions and contemplation. It is intelligent and so creative.
Ken Hatfield’s “12 Preludes for Solo Guitar” is a masterpiece of solo Jazz guitar. The artistry of his composition and performance, the intelligence of his pedagogy, the warmth of his emotion all combine to make his album something worth cherishing. His touch, his tone and his thought are a great statement of the beauty of Jazz guitar.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl