String Theory - Ken Hatfield
Some projects have longer gestation periods than others. The musical ideas on this recording had been percolating in my subconscious for quite awhile, but achieving the balance I desired between simultaneity and sequentiality proved to be elusive. The music on this CD is very personal to me. The forms of the compositions and the instrumentations employed for these recorded performances mirror the sounds that I heard in my "mind's ear" at the time of each piece's creation. These imaginary sounds and the inspirations that gave rise to them guided every aspect of the compositional process, as well as the recording of my performances of each piece.
Two prime objectives motivated the creation of this CD. First, I wanted to delve deeper into the nexus between improvisation and composition that I began to examine on my CD Explorations for Solo Guitar. And second, I felt compelled to undertake an emotional journey to reclaim aspects of my cultural heritage that, frankly, as a jazz musician I had spent a lot of energy trying to distance myself from, namely, my Appalachian roots.
Two of the compositions ("Borges & I" and "Snowhill Variations") are solo guitar pieces and were recorded with no overdubs. The other two pieces ("The Gospel According to Sam" and "String Theory") were composed as duets and were recorded with that principle in mind. Consequently, though I obviously can't play the guitar and dobro or the guitar and mandolin at the same time, I did play each part as one half of its respective duet. So the guitar parts for each piece were recorded with no overdubs, and then each of the other instruments was added as it was played, that is, as one integral half of each duet, with no overdubs within each part. The polyphonic nature of the writing does make this difficult, but it is the way the pieces were conceived, and the way they would be performed in a live concert setting. While modern recording technology makes it possible to separate the different voices within each instrument's part, assigning each voice its own track, I chose not to use that procedure because I felt it would distort the sense of a dialogue between two equals that is central to my conception of the compositions.
Each of the four multi-movement works that make up this CD was structured so that any single movement could stand on its own, but when heard within the context of the entirety of its surrounding movements, each movement illuminates its neighbors. This concept is crucial for understanding the sources that inspired each of the four multi-movement works. Even though there are three or more movements within each work, each movement relates to a different aspect of the sources that inspired the work in which it is contained. For example, "Borges & I" is constructed in the form of a suite with seven movements, each of which is named after a short story written by the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. Even the suite's overall title is named after one of Borges's short stories, and each movement of the suite was inspired by the short story after which it was named.
While Borges's stories cover an enormous range of ideas and emotions, there are certain constants, which is in part why he is viewed as the father of a literary movement often referred to as "magic realism." One of the qualities I find most intriguing in Borges's work is his capacity for addressing the most profound aspects of the human condition in the most succinct terms. The form of the short story and the collections comprised of small numbers of them that were published during Borges's lifetime even resemble the form of a suite made up of individual movements. While my suite is not program music intended to underscore Borges's fictions (as he called them), it is an honest response to the masterful works of one of the 20th century's true visionaries.
The inspiration for "The Gospel According to Sam" was a large number of colorful sayings that I've heard throughout my life, expressed by an extraordinary man named Sam, who also happens to be my father. When I first moved to New York City and began working with a lot of different musicians, I found myself in some unfamiliar situations and responded from time to time with some of the witticisms of my father. For example, when a club owner started to deduct the cost of a glass of water from the band's pay, insisting it was on a musician's bar tab, I responded by saying that the club owner was "tighter than a fish's ass, and that's watertight." My fellow musicians loved these expressions so much that they often asked where on earth I came up with the stuff. When I told them, several suggested that I put together a book of my Dad's more outlandish expressions and title it "The Gospel According to Sam." My Dad loves the dobro, so I wrote "The Gospel According to Sam" for him.
"Snowhill Variations" was inspired by a story told during a lecture attended by Adrian Leverkühn, the main character in Thomas Mann's novel Dr. Faustus. As a young man Adrian attended lectures about music, and during one such lecture the speaker speculates that music is such a natural art that, even without the benefit of instruction or guidance and by merely observing the natural implications of sound, a musically talented novice could reinvent music, with the results being much the same as the music we know today (or at least at the time of the novel, the early 20th century). To illustrate his point the lecturer tells the story of Johann Beissel, who formed a religious order in Pennsylvania. Beissel received what he believed to be divinely inspired poems that were messages for the faithful. Upon hearing choral music Beissel decided that his poems would be more effectively communicated with music. Knowing nothing about music did not intimidate Herr Beissel; he simply invented his own method for creating credible vocal music using a system of what he referred to as "master and slave" tones, not unlike the system of chord tones and alternating passing tones that explain many of our chord-scale relationships today. While this story was only a small but interesting part of Mann's novel, I was intrigued by it. However, I assumed that, like the rest of the novel, it was fiction. To my surprise I found out that Beissel really existed, that he did invent a system for creating choral music, and that he founded religious sects at Ephrata and at Snowhill, Pennsylvania. I began to imagine what Beissel's music might have sounded like, and a theme took shape in my mind. When I began to play around with it on paper, I was surprised to hear how malleable it was. So I wrote twelve variations on it.
The title piece for the CD, "String Theory," didn't have a single source of inspiration. Rather, it emerged from a serendipitous confluence of encounters with art and science, and my own observations on the interactions between these two seemingly disparate disciplines. For example, when I first saw the Henry Moore drawing that graces the cover of this CD, and the way in which its audience quizzically awaits the unveiling of the monolithic structure covered in something bound by string, it struck me as a visual metaphor for the way physicists are awaiting the next step in the process of proving or disproving the validity of string theory. I was also fascinated by the way that some physicists began naming subatomic particles and/or the forces governing their behavior with names like "Grace" and "Love," and how the deeper they get into it, the stranger it becomes-with a projected eleven dimensions to reality. It seems that the weirder their discoveries, the more physicists use names of familiar qualities to describe the tendencies of the phenomena they either predict or discover. Finally, there is the conspicuous fact that every instrument I play on this recording has strings attached. I always look for a unifying principle to hold things together, and "String Theory" seemed the obvious choice to unite the diverse pieces that comprise this CD.
I hope the listener will approach this music with an open-minded sense of discovery and adventure akin to the spirit in which I undertook its creation.
“It’s a treat to stumble across fresh guitar sounds and novel concepts, and guitarist Ken Hatfield offers both in his latest solo album, String Theory. . . . Throughout String Theory, Hatfield’s playing is brainy, dynamic, and relentlessly melodic.”--excerpt, Andy Ellis review of String Theory in Guitar Player, April 2006
“This is the most satisfying solo guitar album I’ve heard in a long time. . . . There’s something different about Hatfield, whose name I’d never run across until his publicist sent me this CD; it’s a name we’d all be seeing, if justice ruled the music biz. . . . On half the album, Hatfield plays nylon-string guitar; on the other half, he plays overdubbed duets with dobro or mandolin. Since his music tends toward the polyphonic on his own, these duets are head-shakingly rich.” --excerpt, Fred Kaplan review of String Theory in The Absolute Sound, April/May, 2006
“FINALLY, A JAZZ recording we can wholeheartedly recommend to best-selling author and PBS physics wiz Brian Greene. . . . That's because guitarist Ken Hatfield had more than mere wordplay in mind when he came up with a name for his latest release, "String Theory." . . . you needn't be Mensa material (thank heaven) to thoroughly enjoy the elegant universe Hatfield sets into motion here. . . . In addition to playing classical guitar with precision and rhythmic flair on this solo album, Hatfield uses mandolin and dobro to create a uniquely textured brand of chamber jazz.”--excerpt, Mike Joyce review of String Theory in The Washington Post, February 24, 2006
“Hatfield’s technical mastery of the guitar and the wide repertoire of traditions he draws on for inspiration and composition mark him out as distinctive among the many plectrists in jazz. On String Theory, his most sophisticated outing yet, Ken’s Appalachian roots are revealed for all to see and be proud of. If Bill Evans was the quintessential thinking man’s jazz pianist, Ken Hatfield is his guitaristic equivalent. Ken constantly wows you with Segovian classical sensibilities interspersed with classical Greek and Latin American literary leanings.”--excerpt, John Stevenson review of String Theory at ejazznews.com
“Whatever stylistic groove he’s pursuing, Hatfield’s guitar work is exceptional. This CD is further evidence, if we needed it, that Hatfield is one of the most skilled, creative, and original guitarist/composers currently recording.”--excerpt, Ron Forbes-Roberts review of String Theory in Acoustic Guitar, May 2006
“***** [Five Stars] Composer and guitarist Ken Hatfield serves up a remarkable demonstration of his gifts on solo classical guitar, with overdubbed dobro and mandolin. If the inspirations are part literary (Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges and, in a way, Hatfield's father) and part scientific (the album's title), the musical results are a delightful amalgam of classical, jazz and Appalachian folk strains. His 13-part Snowhill Variations for solo guitar is a beautifully sustained baroque excursion, full of light and shade, and the seven-part Borges & I, inspired by the master's short "fictions", is brilliant. Guitar is married to dobro on The Gospel According to Sam and to mandolin for String Theory, both three-piece "suites" of surprising diversity. Most remarkable of all, apart from Hatfield's virtuosity and sheer musicality, is the unity he has managed to impose on all this without doing violence to the music's many hues - or its beauty and wit.” --Ray Comiskey review of String Theory in The Irish Times, March 4, 2006
“A brilliant, classical influenced player, Hatfield returns to his Appalachian roots with this deeply personal multimovement solo recording that has him alternating between nylon-string acoustic guitar, mandolin and dobro. . . . there is much for fans of great guitar playing—from Leo Kottke and Jerry Douglas to Chet Atkins and Charlie Byrd to Andres Segovia—to appreciate.” --excerpt, Bill Milkowski review of String Theory in Jazz Times, April 2006
“Ken Hatfield’s String Theory is a classical gas dosed with sweet Appalachian honey. . . . All four pieces that comprise String Theory feature an immaculate, beautifully captured, acoustically resonant sound. . . . Hatfield effortlessly makes his Buscarino guitar ring like a bell as he conveys the fascinating stories behind these multi-part selections.”--excerpt, Elliott Simon review of String Theory in AllAboutJazz-New York, February 2006
“A man of renowned wit and considerable guitar abilities, Ken Hatfield returns to his Appalachian roots on his 2006 CD, String Theory. . . . Whether playing dobro, mandolin, solo classical guitar ala his early mentor Charlie Byrd, serious jazz or inventing a cross-section of Andres Segovia meets Chet Atkins, Ken Hatfield never fails to amaze on another fine album featuring some of the most sublime and entertaining instrumental guitar music being recorded today.”--excerpt, Robert Silverstein review of String Theory in 20th Century Guitar, March 2006
“On this strictly solo affair, Hatfield delivers something completely unexpected. . . . String Theory blends elements of jazz, classical and Appalachian folk music. The entire album, in fact, feels uncannily of one voice, despite its diverse influences. Hatfield is far more than his fine earlier albums have suggested, and more surprises are no doubt on the horizon.”--excerpt, John Kelman review of String Theory at AllAboutJazz.com
“All the songs are composed by [Ken] and are delightful, interesting and melodic. As one of the leaders in the jazz world on nylon string guitar Ken has successfully blended jazz, classical music and a bit of down home country/bluegrass together on this album as well as some fine compositions.”--excerpt, Ian Macgregor review of String Theory in the Jazz Guitar Society of Western Australia Newsletter, April 2006
“Guitarist Ken Hatfield's Appalachian roots grow close to the surface on his sixth CD, String Theory, a spontaneous-sounding blend of classical and country moods. . . . Hatfield's embrace of his country background—he was raised in Norfolk, Virginia and claims the famous Hatfields of the Hatfields and McCoy saga as his forebears—has resulted in his finest work to date, one that walks a line between surface simplicity and complex depths. . . . The music stands tall on its own, classical guitar with a country twang, mixed in with some mandolin and dobro—a sophisticated yet accessible Americana sound.”--excerpt, Dan McLenaghan review of String Theory at AllAboutJazz.com