ALBUM REVIEW: Jen Hartswick's Nexus
Words by Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot)
Being considered as “special” or “extraordinary” is somewhat lost these days. Whether one is referring to the latest superstar athlete, well-spoken politician, or ultra-popular restaurant chef/owner there still are not many moments where I sit back and reflect on how truly “special” someone is. Even tougher, is standing out from the crowd musically, especially when you have such a crowded industry. Bands are formed to create harmonious sounds together, as one unified “unit”; a brother/sisterhood that can be felt in a variety of ways: taped recording, LP, and of course the live show setting. But there are those “special” people, who are not contained by the norms of what it means to play in a band.
I am personally drawn to these incredibly rare personalities; those who provide experiences like none other and seem to transcend the musical boundaries we have all become accustomed to loving. Chick Corea. Trey Anastasio. John Medeski. And ever since I saw her for the first time with the Trey Anastasio Band back in 2011, Jennifer Hartswick.
Hartswick is not your ordinary musician. She is a vocal powerhouse, with the ability to hit high or low notes that just don’t seem to make any sense. Her stage presence is electrifying, whether she is headlining her own show (Jennifer Hartswick + Friends was incredible at The 1up Colfax in Denver back in the day) or showing up at Red Rocks to help her friends in Umphrey’s McGee crush “Electric Avenue to Hell”. And did I mention she is a badass trumpet player as well? Jennifer is a true triple-threat, with the ability to enhance any band with her unique and downright “special-ness”. Her latest project, a duo tour with the Nth Power’s Nick Cassarino sees Hartswick playing smaller, more listening-room type of venues where her vocal prowess can really be appreciated. With the tour, comes her latest album/release Nexus which is a great way to introduce yourself to this amazing woman if you have not done so already.
Backed by an incredibly impressive group of musicians (Christian McBride on bass, Natalie Cressman on trombone, Russ Lawton on drums, and Cassarino on guitar) Nexus is a firsthand look into the evolution of Hartswick as a musician. Known more as an integral piece to Trey’s band, or a special guest to groups such as Phish or UM, Hartswick lets loose on this album with an insane showing of her vocal abilities. Songs such as “Numb”, “Silent Waves”, and “Drowning” have Jennifer bouncing all over her vocal range going from high to low with beautiful/smooth transitions. “Do I Move You” shows her in a more rock-like song, with Cassarino giving us some nice bluesy guitar licks to play off of Hartswick’s low growling voice. “I Who Have Nothing” puts Jennifer in a jazzy format, with her playing along with Christian McBride’s legendary bass line, another example of just how diverse Hartswick’s musical ability is.
For me personally though, what is most impressive on Nexus is Hartswick’s ever-improving trumpet playing. Starting on my favorite tune of the album, “You Can’t Take It Back” the trumpet is featured front and center going toe-to-toe with Cassarino’s beautiful guitar work. “Blue Rose” is a slower more instrumentally focused song, with various trumpet playing technique’s being used on top of the light rhythm. And lastly, “Do I Move You” has Hartswick soloing for a good portion of the song with fast and fierce trumpet licks overlaid on top of Cassarino’s bluesy guitar chords. She will always be known as one of the top female vocalists on the jam-band scene, but having the trumpet along with her powerful vocals sets her apart from the rest. It truly makes Hartswick extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, and no doubt “special”.
Do yourself a favor and go catch Hartswick whenever and wherever you can. She has extended plans to tour with Cassarino for the rest of 2018, and you know TAB will be playing the larger venues across the country in 2019. (In TAB, Hartswick goes back and forth with Trey on a variety of songs, most notably Led Zeppelin favorites “Black Dog” and “Dazed and Confused”) And you never know when she will show up at a random Umphrey’s McGee show to usually crush a 1980s cover! But most importantly, buy Nexus and support this absolutely amazing woman on her solo musical journey. She is a special one.