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Jan Hammer: Seasons Pt. 1 (Red Gate)

Review of keyboardist/composer's first album as a leader in 10 years

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Cover of Jan Hammer album Seasons Pt. 1
Cover of Jan Hammer album Seasons Pt. 1

Miami Vice was both the best and worst thing ever to happen to Jan Hammer. For 15 years, starting in the early ’70s, the Czech musician was one of the most respected fusion-rooted keyboardists around, building an impressive résumé that included work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola, John Abercrombie, and many others, as well as a string of albums as a leader. Then came the lucrative, high-profile gig scoring 90 episodes of the popular TV crime series, leading to a 1985 No. 1 hit single and a pair of Grammys with its theme song. Now a pop star, Hammer found plenty of work scoring, but his cred in the jazz world largely evaporated.

Seasons Pt. 1, Hammer’s first album as a leader in a decade, seems like an attempt to tie the various threads together and bring him back into focus. A patchwork, it includes both recently cut and leftover tracks, all of them recorded—with Hammer playing all the instruments (among them a couple of Korgs and some vintage keyboards)—at his home studio in upstate New York.

The song titles—“Winter Solstice,” “Ocean Drive,” “April”—usually offer easy hints of what to expect. Several tracks evince the feel of the cinematic soundscapes Hammer has spent so long crafting: “Suite European,” not unexpectedly, runs toward the traditional orchestral while a companion piece, “Suite Latin,” incorporates flamenco runs that succeed in generating the intended Iberian ambience. But the opening “Miami: Night” suggests neither the music from the TV program that put Hammer on top nor any beat one might hear on those steamy streets today. Like several of the other tunes here, it’s pleasant enough but mostly bland; neither particularly stimulating nor innovative, it’s a far cry from the fiery work Hammer routinely turned out in his prime.

Originally Published