Jan Hammer

Jan Hammer's The First Seven Days is a fascinating excursion into the richly hued world of multi-track keyboarding. With the exception of a violinist and a percussionist at the end of side two, all the music is performed by Mr. Hammer on acoustic and electric pianos, synthesizers, and Mellotron, with the aid of a digital sequencer. The album is close to the work of guitarist John McLaughlin in its use of bitonal riffs and in the construction of the tunes, which tend each to consist of two or three distinct alternating sections; but for the most part Mr. Hammer prefers creating broad sweeps of sound and slow melodies on the keyboard to the sizzling lead work he turned out with McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. The melodies are often in unisons at a two- or three-octave range, accompanied simultaneously by a riff and by a synthesized string texture.

The Biblical story of the Creation is an ambitious subject for an album - perhaps a little too ambitious. It is to Mr. Hammer's credit that he has preferred evocative rather than imitative music and the material of each movement does indeed evoke the appropriate images, sometimes with startling felicity (cf. the funky percussion during "The Animals," and the shimmering tone colors of "Light"). But as Mr. Hammer himself notes, the story of the Creation provided him with "an excuse to write seven new pieces of music," and the titanic impetus of the Biblical story is simply absent from the result. The only points of high drama occur at the outset and at the conclusion of the album: What is in between is beautiful music without any of the urgency that one would associate with such momentous events.

Considered apart from its ostensible inspiration, however, the album is a gem. The cycling of the riffs creates a peaceful aura which the angular tonalities keep from cloying, and there are enough surprises both in the textures and in the junctures between sections to satisfy the most particular listener.

Taylor Young