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Ken Hatfield (c) kenhatfield.comGuitarist, composer, and educator Ken Hatfield is a truly unique voice in the world of contemporary jazz. His distinctive fingerstyle playing and songwriting is colored by eclectic tastes, which are informed by both traditional jazz as well as classical music, as evidenced by his recent book/CD, Etudes for Solo Guitar in 24 Keys (Arthur Circle Music).

In addition to Hatfield’s seven critically acclaimed albums as a leader, he’s also made a name for himself though performances or recordings with the likes of Charlie Byrd, Ben E. King, Chico Hamilton, and Kenny Werner, among many others. 

1. The Bridge Sonny Rollins (Quartet)

Sonny’s playing on this record knocks me out. I recently acquired a Japanese import CD of this 1962 recording, which I’ve owned on vinyl for years. I’ve always liked piano-less quartets, and here Jim Hall masterfully demonstrates how to use the guitar in such a context, both as accompanist and soloist. Plus any rhythm section with Bob Cranshaw is going to swing to perfection.

2. Adios Nonino Astor Piazzolla y su Quinteto

I’ve been a fan of Piazzolla since Charlie Byrd gave me a lead sheet of “Chigulin da Bachin” one afternoon we spent playing together in Boston. In Italy, I bought a cache of Piazzolla scores that convinced me even more of his genius. Yet none of the recordings I subsequently purchased brought those scores to life until I found this reissue (on Circular Moves). I can’t stop listening to it. It’s a masterpiece.

3. Quarteto Novo

This legendary 1967 recording on Odeon showcases the (then) very young Hermeto Pascoal and Airto Moreira, along with guitarists The;o de Barros and Geraldo Vandre; exploring many of the rich veins of Brazilian music that are still being mined today. I looked for this recording for years based on one listening that I never forgot. Often the fulfillment of such a search doesn’t live up to one’s memories, but Quarteto Novo certainly does.

4. Conference of the Birds Dave Holland

This landmark 1973 recording contains a remarkable balance of forward-looking compositions that are accessible to anyone who pays attention, combined with master musicians having a great time playing with each other. It foreshadows the preeminent place that Dave now deservedly occupies in our music.

5. Time Line Ralph Towner

There is only one Ralph Towner. This recent example reminds us why Ralph is such a great musician, who happens to play the guitar.His musical ideas transcend the instrument and, consequently, in his hands the guitar is transformed into something beyond what most guitarists (and others) believe it is, or can be. What better demonstration of artistry is there?

6. Smokin’ at the Half Note Wynton Kelly Trio with Wes Montgomery

There is nothing to say about this record that hasn’t already been said. It actually changed the course of my life when I first heard it. The 2005 Verve reissue contains the remaining live tracks (sans strings) that Creed Taylor decided not to release initially. Every bit of why Wes changed it for all those of us who came after him is in evidence here. For me this is the bible of jazz guitar.

7. Sound Grammar Ornette Coleman

This recording garnered Ornette the Pulitzer for music in 2007. I’m generally not an aficionado of so-called “out playing,” but this record is so compelling in a way that words are inadequate to express, that if this is “out,” then count me in as one who digs it.

8. The Complete Argo/Mercury/Art Farmer/Benny Golson/Jazztet Sessions

I put this on whenever I need a pick-me-up, or a reminder of why jazz is so vitally important. The writing, the arranging, the playing

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