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By Doug Hammer
Label: Dreamworld Productions
Released 10/24/2007
Solace tracks
1. Unfolding
2. Sunrise
3. In The Fields
4. The Dance
5. Flying High
6. Gabrielle
7. Coming Home
8. A Warm Place In Winter
9. Emmanuelle
10. A Dream I Once Lived In
11. Soliloquy
12. Bittersweet
13. Sorrow
14. All These Moments Will Be Gone
15. The Way Things Must Be
16. The Road Home
Pianist Doug Hammer's debut CD, Solace, is pretty inside and out. The cover art is easily one of the more striking images I've seen in the past year (nice font and layout too, which are not always givens for independent releases) and the music inside is a charming and well-performed mixture of dramatic passionate numbers and more sedate impressionistic pieces. What's equally impressive is that Hammer produced, engineered and apparently even mastered the disc himself. Well done, I have to admit.

There are sixteen selections on Solace and if you enjoy solo piano, I can almost guarantee that you will find a few tracks to your liking, no matter what your personal preference is in styles, be it minimalist tone poems, infectious structured refrains, or somber meditations. Hammer seems comfortable across a wide spectrum of tempos and moods, handling the power and jubilation of Sunrise and the liveliness of The Dance as easily as he does the mournful bluesiness of Sorrow and the quiet repose of All These Moments Will be Gone (an allusion to Roy Batty's final line in Blade Runner, perhaps?).

Unfolding opens the CD and the music does evoke the image of a flower opening up to the light of day, first slowly and a bit tentatively (the opening is sparse and minimal) and gradually building in intensity and fullness as the track continues to evolve. An unexpectedly restrained and pensive number (given its title), Flying High is a gentle impressionistic tune, one of the quieter cuts on the album. Gabrielle flows along romantically with hints of neo-classical influences while Coming Home wears its comfortable nostalgic "front porch swing" feeling on its patient melodic sleeve. The Road Home closes out Solace. Beginning in a starkly sparse vein, Hammer explores the silence between notes as much as the notes themselves, playing with nuanced quiet and stillness. As the song progresses, things pick up and a meandering sense of movement takes over the melody, introducing a palpable cheerfulness, no doubt meant to convey the feeling experienced by the titular reference. Near the end, the music carries an unmistakable air of exhilaration and excitement tinted with joy, before winding down at the conclusion with the original minimalism, as if the traveler, after many merry welcomings upon crossing the threshold, settles down in an easy chair for well-deserved rest and contentment.

I understand Doug Hammer already has three more CDs out on his website. If Solace is any indication, he is on his way toward establishing himself as an artist to keep track of if you enjoy solo piano recordings. His debut release is quite good, especially for a self-produced first offering, so the future bodes well for him. The album is recommended to piano music fans who seek more variety in this genre than is usually found.
Rating: Good +   Good +
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 2/10/2009
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