Classical CD Reviews

HAMPTON: “Hard Listening” [TrackList follows] = Performed by Mitch Hampton, piano – Navona

Perhaps the disc’s title should be “Close Listening?”

Published on November 21, 2014

HAMPTON: “Hard Listening” [TrackList follows] = Performed by Mitch Hampton, piano – Navona NV5975 Enhanced CD (with digital program notes), 68 min. (Distr. by Naxos) [10/14/14 ] ****:

This cleverly-designed disc also contains intriguing piano music by composer/artist Mitch Hampton. The styles of most of its pieces in this collection hearken back to earlier times, such as the Fifties, with traces of Earl Wild at his liveliest, and some go back even farther to George Gershwin.

Although not explicitly programmatic, the disc is structured like a program. I found myself imagining a movie about an evening at a smoky club where the first piece patrons hear is “The Royal Blue Trickle Suite for Piano.” This composition starts off moodily and wandering, as if searching for a center. Soon it finds it in a pastiche of bluesy swing and light-hearted impromptus. It simmers down to an adagio exploration of contemplation; perhaps the hero is weighing his chances with a lady. Then the notion simply settles down to a soft ending. In “For Victor Young” he explores the popular light music style of Young, who wrote popular hits for band leaders like the Dorsey brothers and music for films like Samson and Deliah and Shane.

While most of his music is unabashedly tonal, Hampton is not by any means predictable. After his thoughtful tribute to Young, he includes a piece of adagio dissonance with the puzzling title “Crossover Hit.” Unlike the other cuts, I don’t think this one stands by itself. But maybe in the context of Hard Listening’s program, it serves as a curve thrown between “For Victor Young” and the melodic “Feminist Singer Songwriter Song without Words.” This long piece features a dose of minimalist-style repetition, a loping sentimental undercurrent, and bemusing improvisory sections. For a while I found myself playing it several times a day, because it’s as addictive as a bag of kettle corn.

His “Large Dirge in Memory of my Father” is kind of a musical essay on the song “Where or When” from the 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical Babes In Arms. It was his father’s favorite tune. How could it not be? It’s been covered by greats like Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Diana Krall. Yet Hampton’s dirge is a complex composition – you’ll have to listen closely to hear its rapid and elaborate takes on the song’s melody.

That’s the key here, listening closely. Some of the pieces may initially sound like dinner music, but they usually evolve into complex Liszt-like fantasies that demand far more attention. Perhaps the disc’s title should be “Close Listening?”

TrackList:

The Royal Blue Trickle Suite For Piano 
Petite Dirge 
For Victor Young 
Score for a Film With An International All Star Cast 
Crossover Hit 
Feminist Singer Songwriter Song Without Words 
Goodbye Cornelius (Don Cornelius) 
Large Dirge In Memory Of My Father

—Peter Bates




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