Andrew Hartman ‘Compass’ (Private Press) 4/5

New York City based guitarist Andrew Hartman was born into a musical family in Cincinnati. Hartman grew up playing a variety of instruments, beginning his formal studies on trumpet, but with the guitar occupying an ever-increasing number of hours in his day. Studying guitar at the Ohio State University, Hartman became active in the Columbus jazz scene, learning on the gig from many of the area’s experienced musicians. This left an indelible mark in Hartman’s taste in jazz music. In addition to working as a sideman, he led the group Still Motion, for which he was also the main composer and arranger, with the quintet releasing an album of Hartman’s original compositions in 2010. In 2011 Hartman moved to London, where he worked as a freelance musician and teacher. Over the course of a year, he met and performed with some of the UK’s finest jazz musicians, eventually leading a group playing his new original music. His latest release “Compass”, is a quartet outing and features saxophonist Chris Cheek, bassist Ike Sturm, and drummer Zach Harmon.
The album features nine of the guitarist’s original compositions and an arrangement of Paul Simon’s “America”. Largely written over the last five years, the music reflects a period of frequent travel for Hartman. There’s a lovely warm, rich tone throughout the recording which is fairly straight-ahead contemporary jazz for the most part, with Brazilian and Indian musical influences creeping in here and there.

Hartman has chosen his trio of fellow musicians well. Bassist Ike Sturm and drummer Zach Harmon both provide excellent support, whether that be laying the foundation for the guitar and sax solos, creating a groove that sits nicely behind the composer’s melodies, or on occasion taking the lead. But it is saxophonist Chris Cheek that lifts this album up and above the average. I have always been an admirer of Cheek’s playing, and his melodic, lyrical and fluent style is perfect for Hartman’s compositions.

Stand-out tracks for me include the infectious “Chic Korea” which features some marvellous interplay between all four musicians, the uplifting “New Day”, with its journeying, meandering and wistful feel, the tuneful, slightly melancholic “Devices”, the effervescent “The Heights” which is perhaps the most accomplished piece on the album, and the quartet’s take on Paul Simon’s “America”; a quite stunning arrangement that makes me want to hit the repeat button on my music player.

“Compass” is an enjoyable album, with some fine compositions and skillful playing from guitarist Hartman. It is though, as previously mentioned, the wonderful tone and virtuosity of saxophonist Chris Cheek that brings most pleasure to this listener’s ears.

Mike Gates