Scott Hartley,
Ancestral Crossing
(First Light, 2001)

Listening to Scott Hartley's Ancestral Crossing is a lot like looking at a quilt made of patches from a family's clothing over generations. Your first response is "Oh, this is nice. This is pretty," but as you listen more and read Hartley's liner notes, the melodies take on shape and texture, just as the patches take on meaning once you know the story behind Uncle Joseph's favorite red flannel shirt or Grandmother's wedding gown.

The first three tracks comprise "The Ancestral Crossing Suite." "A Distant Shore: Ancestral Crossing" paints a vivid picture of a ship leaving the harbor, then breaking free onto the open ocean through the increasing drama of interplay between piano and violin. In "To Have Reached the Soil: Daybreak," a cool-sounding flute takes a turn in an evocative musical portrayal of dawn in a new land. The third track, "Nomads: Legends of Rain," spotlights the piano with delicate percussion to suggest rain falling, and the track ends with the sound of rainfall.

The rest of the tracks continue much in the same vein, each track like a sparkling musical miniature, enhanced by Hartley's commentary in the liner notes. The personal dimension sparks the listener's imagination, giving it direction as the tunes flow gently, one to the next, with varied and interesting texture and luster.

One track sticks out a bit: in order to express his interest in and appreciation of Ireland, Hartley chooses to arrange "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." The arrangement is low key and simple, played smoothly and not too sentimentally on flute. Still, with all the beautiful traditional airs available, one wonders why that particular song.

Hartley uses traditional music to stunning effect in "Covergence (Oh Shenandoah/Water is Wide)." "Convergence" begins with "Oh Shenandoah" on piano, then the flute picks up the melody. The transition to "Water is Wide" on pennywhistle is seamless. The simple majesty in the arrangement is masterful.

Hartley performs on piano, keyboards and drum programming, and a complement of musicians provide support, notably Peter Gordon on flute, pennywhistle, recorder and piccolo and Charlie Bisharat on violin. All of the musicians mesh well in each arrangement, spotlighting and supporting where appropriate.

The listener can't help the comparison to Paul Winter, but Hartley clearly has his own direction. While Winter is wont to create musical murals, Hartley leans more toward musical vignettes -- not unlike patches in a family quilt.

While Ancestral Crossing serves well as ambient music, its thoughtful arrangements and quality musicianship warrant full attention.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 21 July 2001

Buy it from