Travels is an incredible two-disc solo piano release by Doug Hammer. With a total of thirty-nine original compositions, it is amazing that there is no filler on either disc. Disc 1 is a collection of nineteen "composed" pieces written over the course of several years, and Disc 2 contains twenty improvisations that were "written" and recorded in one take. Disc 2 is subtitled "Detour" because it arrived unexpectedly while working on Travels. Hammer's album covers are always exceptional, and Travels features a photo of a really beat up old upright that, if it could talk, would have some fascinating stories as well. Both discs have an eclectic selection of music recorded on a Schimmel concert grand piano. Most of it is played in the beautifully-flowing style Hammer is known for, but there are also blues, gospel, jazz and classical stylings.
With thirty-nine tracks, I'll just hit a few of them on each disc. Disc 1 begins with the title tune, an energetic piece that suggests anticipation and excitement. "The Turn of Time" is a lovely ballad that is much quieter and more relaxed. "Pendulum" has a catchy smooth jazz rhythm that suggests joyful movement. "Reflections Of a Distant Past" is quiet and introspective - almost dreamy. "City of Dreams" has a gorgeous, gentle melody that is soothing and optimistic. The magical sparkle of "The Castle" is light and lively at the beginning, becoming bigger and more majestic as it unfolds. I really love this one! "Lost City" is dark and almost mournful - I love this one, too! "After the Storm" is poignant and bittersweet - soft-spoken and lovely. "Whirling Dervish" begins slowly in the bass of the piano, gradually building energy. The melody is mysterious, giving no hint of how this piece will develop. A little before the middle, it takes on a completely new tempo, maintaining the melody, but getting faster and faster and taking on a more Middle Eastern flavor. After peaking, the original melody and tempo return and fade out - fascinating! "Jonathan's Song" is a tender lullaby and love song. Disk 1 ends with "Travels (epilogue)," which is much quieter and more reflective than the first version. It could be subtitled "The Weary Traveler Returns" - a very fitting end to a great ride!
Disc 2 begins with "Moving On," which has a repeated bass chord rhythm that suggests movement and a sense of urgency while the melody is more relaxed. "Back In Your Arms" expresses the warmth of a welcoming embrace - tender and loving. "The Place We Once Knew" is a wistful and nostalgic ballad that expresses deep feelings. "Have Faith" and the next few songs were a surprise - and a happy one at that! "Have Faith" is pure, soulful gospel. "Old Piano" is obviously played on a different piano - perhaps the one on the album cover! Honky-tonk fun that ends too soon. I love "Ragtime Blues" - slow and sultry with a touch of humor. Great stuff, Doug!!! "Jekyll and Hyde" begins slowly and mysteriously, becoming much bigger and more dramatic and then going back to the quieter side. The two sides alternate several times to great effect, and then it trails off at the end. "Frozen Night" returns to a softer style but conveys the chill of a very cold night - another really great piece! "My Heart Belongs to You" is a deeply emotional love song that comes from the heart - another favorite. "Going Home" expresses warmth, hope, and contentment from a special place within - just beautiful! "Stillness" soothes and relaxes with quiet tones and open spaces between the notes. "Remembrance" and "In Memory" are both gentle, thoughtful pieces for loved ones who have taken the ultimate journey.
Travels is excellent from start to finish. The variety in the music gives a well-rounded travelog for "life, love, loss. Moments, journeys, and the brightness of days." This is sure to be one of my favorite albums for 2011. Check it out at www.doughammer.net, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. I give Travels my highest recommendation.