Paul Hardcastle: The Snoozejazzmaster

You’d slide out of your chair too. From boredom.

Jazz: noun, often attributive \’jaz\ a type of American music with lively rhythms and melodies that are often made up by musicians as they play

Jazz. Say the word. J-A-Z-Z. Paul Hardcastle calls his side project “The Jazzmasters.” If he means he plays instrumentals, it is. If he means truly understanding the idiom, it’s not.

A lot of jazz albums end up in my mailbox.  A few are good.   Some are terrible.  There are some rare gems, but most are competently mediocre.

The Jazzmasters VII is total shit.   It is dull beyond belief.   It is tedium, tiresome and the embodiment of the worst of snooze jazz.   It didn’t even hold my interest long enough to get me to hate it.

The not-so Secret Sauce of Hardcastle’s success is his music is designed, calculated, formulated and manufactured so as not to deviate from the template. There is no discernible difference between a Jazzmasters release and a Hardcastle solo joint. They are interchangeable and the sound faithfully follows Hardcastle’s freeze-dried jazz/chill formula. This sort of Tinker Toy, generic pap is popular in the same way McDonald’s french fries are popular: all the consumer must do is consume. Whether it provides any nutritional value is purely secondary.

The titles are generic. “Unlimited Love,” “Soft Rain” and “Starlight Express” sound like names for bottles of perfume. Songs start, stop tinkle quietly and fade away. There isn’t a single hook or a spontaneous moment. There are no twists, no turns, no diversion, no digression, and no deviation, only cold efficiency.

To be a jazz master shouldn’t you actually play jazz?

If you’re a fan of this sort of thing and dig Hardcastle’s chilled out drizzle and you’ve consumed his past product here’s some more of the same old same old. At this point in his career, Hardcastle can be described as one football coach described the other team: He is who we thought he was. Only in the most liberal sense of the word can the sound recordings of Hardcastle be even remotely considered to be any sort of “jazz.”

It is false advertising to proclaim there are any masters of jazz on The Jazzmasters. Hardcastle certainly isn’t interested in lively rhythms and melodies that are often made up by musicians as they play. This is background music. It’s too mechanical, too bloodless  and too flat-out lazy to be anything more than empty sound.

Duke was a jazz master. Miles was a jazz master. Thelonious was a jazz master. Paul Hardcastle is about as much a jazz master as a Kardashian sister.    Before he dubs himself a “jazzmaster” he should learn how to play some first.

Track Listing: Unlimited Love; Rhythm of Life; Free to Fly; Starlight Express; Soft Rain; Domino Effect; Pulse of the Universe; Unlimited Love (the Strings), Come On; Breathe; Echoes of Eternity; Rhythm of Life (Chill Reprise)

Personnel: Paul Hardcastle: unspecified instruments; Rock Hendricks: saxophone; Paul Hardcastle,Jr. : saxophone idea (1); Maxine Hardcastle: backing vocals (2); Cindy Bradley: trumpet (1); Margo Ledue: backing vocals (3)

Record Label: Trippin n Rhythm Records

A different version of this review originally published at All About Jazz.


The (Not So) Great Lost Paul Hardcastle Review

A guy with one good idea he's run into the ground

Whenever you write a review of an album, typically the editor checks it for spelling and punctuation errors, makes sure it’s formatted correctly and that it fits with the publication’s internal style guide.  99 percent of these reviews sail through without a problem.

Then there’s the one percent like this one.

The editor of All About Jazz kicked this review of Paul Hardcastle’s new album back to me with a lengthy grocery list of reasons for doing so.   Among the more interesting ones were “this kind of verbiage simply sounds like a writer scoring points off the artist, who they clearly don’t like” and the review “doesn’t reflect well on either yourself or AAJ.”

Every writer who has ever submitted their work to an editor occasionally disagrees with editorial decisions.   Creative people have their conflicts.   The editor suggested I rewrite the review.  I declined having figured I had already devoted enough time to a musician I have no strong feelings for and upon going back to the review, I found it acceptable.  My opinion is admittedly biased, but I disagreed with the editor and wrote back to tell him so.

It’s evident to me we don’t agree on the Paul Hardcastle review.  I went back and gave it another reading.   Your comment about me trying to  “score points on the artist”  is not how I see it at all.

This is a review about a guy who hasn’t had an original idea in 26 years.  If I wanted to “score points” I’d call him Paul Hackcastle, not Paul Hardcastle.   That is scoring points.  That is criticizing the music, not the man.   I didn’t do that.  You’re right that I don’t much like Hardcastle, but I believe I gave valid reasons in the review.

It’s your call to run the review or reject it.   As a freelancer I’m well aware what a writer thinks is perfectly acceptable, the editor may say, “Sorry.  Not so much.”

I’ve spent all the time on Paul Hardcastle 6 I intend to.   If I wanted to write it for my blog I would have posted it there.   I wrote it for AAJ.   If you don’t feel it’s up to AAJ standards, then you don’t have to run it.

However, your criticism that it “doesn’t reflect well on either yourself or AAJ”  reads like you’re scoring points on me.

As AAJ’s editor you’re well qualified to reflect upon what doesn’t reflect well on AAJ.   I’m the person who can best assess what doesn’t reflect well on me.

He responded, but bottom line is we disagreed.  It happens.  He’s the editor.  I’m the contributor.  The final word is always his so there’s no point in arguing and ending a relationship both parties have found mutually beneficial until now.  I get free music.  They get reviews of the music.  It’s a win-win and I’m not going to walk away from a five-year professional relationship over a guy like Hardcastle who keeps endlessly recycling the one or two ideas he had 20 years ago. 

Maybe he is a hack, but why jeopardize my access for him?

I did however change my mind.  I figured since I wrote the review, somebody might want to read it besides myself and the editor.

So here’s the (not so) Great Lost Paul Hardcastle review. that was too strong for All About Jazz.

The only thing more generic than the cover is the music.

What’s the difference between a Paul Hardcastle solo album and his Jazzmasters side project ? Okay, that’s a trick question. There is no discernible difference as one project sounds exactly like the other. The music is interchangeable and indistinguishable between the two as the signature sound of Hardcastle’s laid back soundscapes haven’t changed much from his mid-Eighties hits, “Rain Forest” and “19,” both of which show up here in remixed form.

The chill sub-genre leans heavily on plenty of synthesizers, airy vocals, some random sax solos with a some stray flutes and what sounds like vibes (but probably isn’t). It’s too fast for New Age but too colorless to be called jazz, Hardcastle VI lacks the heart or soul to be thought of as little more than fast-food music; mass produced with enough flavor that it tastes good, but not enough to be memorable.

Which isn’t to say this is necessarily bad. Fast food can taste pretty good if you’re in the mood for it and the “Rainforest/What’s Going On” mash-up of Hardcastle’s “Rainforest” and “19” with a sample of {{Marvin Gaye}}’s activist anthem, “What’s Going On?” deserves points for audacity. Depending upon how open the listener’s mind is, this is either an interesting idea or a total travesty. Either way, Hardcastle deserves credit for blending two totally conflicting styles in one pretty passable package.

“Night Time Hustle” and ” Easy Come Easy Go” pick up the pace to the point that if you’re not careful you might actually try to get up and dance. Though Hardcastle is often associated with dancing, whenever Hardcastle VI risks prompting a response other than listening passively another humdrum track featuring Becki Biggins’ vapid vocals wobbles in until the urge passes.

The fans of the Paul Hardcastle formula will welcome the latest installment in what seems like the longest single album in recorded history. It might take only the most hardcore Hardcastle devotee to discern the deviation between Hardcastle VI and the straight line that runs to his eponymous debut some 26 years earlier. For others they may well wonder how this bloodless, passionless music got classified as any sort of jazz.