Mitch Haupers—guitarist, composer, and faculty member of the prestigious Berklee College of Music—makes an impressive recording debut with Invisible Cities, a collection of original compositions highlighting his mellow, lyrical, and creative aesthetic. As he explains in Bill Milkowski’s liner notes: “When it comes down to speaking my own mind creatively, I tend to go with the more relaxed, calm, reflective approach.” “In the world of guitar,” Haupers prefaces this description, “as in all things, there’s the yin and the yang. I think my . . . whole approach to playing is more yin.” A more accurate characterization of Hauper’s music is unlikely.
He is joined on the album by a base ensemble featuring Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass, Peter Erskine on drums, and Bob Mintzer on winds. These are musicians who play together as P.O.E.M., as well as a gaggle of guest performers on individual tracks.
Haupers opens with the cleverly titled “Veronica’s Lake.” While younger listeners may not recognize the name, for the grizzled among us, the blonde actress with her signature hairdo is a sadly happy memory. That it also has a personal happy association for the composer adds a secondary subjective level reflected in the tune’s gently swinging vibe. As clever titles go, “Waltz for Bill,” which immediately gets jazz fans thinking Bill Evans and “Waltz for Debby,” is another swinging winner for the quintet.
The central work on the album is the four-part chamber piece, “Four Minor Love Songs Suite.” “Take Comfort (In Rose’s Garden),” the first movement, memorializes Haupers’ grandmother, and opens with the composer on the solo piano before he is joined by members of the Boston Pops orchestra and Berklee faculty. The second movement is called “The Farmer and the Monarch.” Haupers, back on guitar, explains that the piece was inspired by Britain’s “mad” King George III, he of the American Revolution, who had a passionate interest in agriculture. Its idyllic themes are more likely to suggest the bucolic element than the revolutionary. Movement three, the lovely “(In Came) Love, So Silent,” features a vocal passage from soprano Brooke de Rosa. The Suite concludes with a powerful “Beacon Street” filled with horns and a sound with big band overtones.
Of the other tracks on the disc, “Isla Mujeres” is an ethereal ballad with Mintzer on the tenor sax, and “Leoa” an exercise in drama. The album’s title song plays with Brazilian rhythms with Mintzer overdubbing a variety of woodwinds. The set closes with “P.S. Vita (Reprise),” a short, lyrical guitar duet with Haupers on electric guitar and Mike Miller playing the Brazilian guitar. It makes for a fitting coda for an excellent album.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00KWGU7QE,B00KWGU25K]