Back in 2019, Norwegian guitarist Casper Hatlestad played at Lancaster Jazz Festival. Having lived in many places and travelled often, Hatlestad’s compositions are often inspired by different cultures and places. After doing a BA and MA at Leeds Conservatoire, he then moved to Prague, and plays guitar as part of the band DOMI. He is set to release a full solo album later this year, Acoustic Tales From Prague – but for now has begun releasing some of his solo work as singles. We listened to ‘Bokka’ and ‘Ella’, which were released in April, and became completely immersed in this beautiful, acoustic music. Hatlestad’s style is characterised by intimate solo guitar playing, harmonics, a strong sense of movement and warm melodies. These singles are extremely accessible to any listener, and were inspired by some beautiful stories. On Spotify Hatlestad writes that his music ‘kept him sane’ during lockdown, and that his only wish is that listeners ‘find some peace, some calmness and mindfulness while listening’. We don’t know about you, but we certainly did.
“the feeling which overwhelms you as you listen is one of peace, yet also contentment.”
‘Bokka’ opens with a beautiful, warm melody on guitar which is accompanied by strummed chords. The melody definitely feels folk-inspired, and has a real joy to it – the feeling which overwhelms you as you listen is one of peace, yet also contentment. Hatlestad explained that this piece was inspired by moving from the UK to Prague during lockdown, which was a very difficult process, yet meeting someone in the Czech Republic who helped him to explore ‘Prague’s parks and hidden gems’. The girl he met had a dog named Bokka who was optimistic, energetic and fun, and therefore inspired the acoustic track because playing the melody reminded Hatlestad of the warm, calm and peaceful feeling he had when exploring Prague on summer days. The music definitely reflects this sense of solace and peace in the every day, which was difficult to find during lockdown. Taking solace in nature is also something which comes across through the music, especially as it feels as though ‘Bokka’ incorporates ideas from the folk tradition. Hatlestad uses a really effective form in ‘Bokka’ which allows us as listeners to easily follow along, yet the use of pauses and rests create a beautiful sense of anticipation. ‘Bokka’ is a truly uplifting piece!
‘Ella’ also features Hatlestad on solo guitar, yet it opens with more space and harmonics which seem to pose some questions for us as listeners, and for Hatlestad himself. This then moves into a really beautiful melody which again has a lot of movement, as Hatlestad continuously plays arpeggiated chords underneath. There are some really special moments from the bass in ‘Ella’ – it adds another layer in a way which really builds the beauty of the piece. When listening to his music, Hatlestad invites listeners to ‘take a break, close your eyes’, and in doing this the intensity and intimacy of the music is really increased. This piece has a very emotional energy to it, which makes sense when thinking about its context; Hatlestad explains that ‘during December last year, my grandmother was fighting a battle a bit too hard for her body to win.’ He composed a piece to send to her on her 90th birthday, which she really appreciated. When he got the message that she was in her last few hours, he impro-composed another piece to thank her for everything she had done for him, and for being herself. The piece didn’t make it to her in time, but Hatlestad then played it at her funeral – and that piece became ‘Ella’. The peaceful nature of the composition is so moving when thinking about its context, and the musical ability of Hatlestad is really inspiring considering the situation in which he impro-composed this piece.
“We can’t wait to hear the rest of the album!”
Acoustic Tales From Prague is set to be a really incredible album, based upon the two singles which Casper has released so far. The intimate, acoustic nature of the music makes it accessible and emotionally engaging for every listener – and the stories behind each piece are both moving and beautiful. Hatlestad’s wish to bring a sense of peace and relaxation to listeners at such a difficult time is truly admirable, and we feel he does this wonderfully. We can’t wait to hear the rest of the album!
Review by Evie Hill