Starting in 1991 with The Jazzmasters, Paul Hardcastle has maintained two alternating series of albums for his smooth jazz music, releasing five volumes each of Jazzmasters and discs titled Hardcastle. That the two series are interchangeable in terms of musical style is a point reinforced by this compilation, which pulls one track each from those ten CDs, adding a couple of new tunes ("The Circle" and "Dancing Lights") up front, as well as one from the 1997 covers disc Cover to Cover (a version of the Barry White-penned instrumental "Love's Theme" that was a number one hit for Love Unlimited Orchestra in 1974) and a sampler from the Hardcastle 5 remix album Journey to a Different State of Mind. This is not a hits selection; that job has been handled previously for Hardcastle's music by albums with the words "greatest hits" and "very best of" in the titles. Rather, this album attempts to offer a representative précis of Hardcastle's music, 1991-2008. Most of the tracks are instrumentals, the tempos taken at loping paces (with occasional pauses), as synthesizer-based instrumental beds support a lead line usually played by a saxophone. There are slight variations. "You May Be Gone" from Hardcastle 1 is the first vocal number, in which a high-tenor male voice sings a lament about a deceased loved one. "You may be gone," he notes, "but you'll never be forgotten," later adding, "I hope somehow this song will get through/To let you know we're still thinking of you." That plural pronoun is justified when children's voices come in reciting testimonials to their departed mother. Hardcastle reveals another of his ‘70s influences by covering America's 1972 hit "Ventura Highway" from Jazzmasters III. "Valley of the Harps" from The Jazzmasters 4 finds the music inching toward more of a laid-back chill style, while "Return of the Rainman" from Hardcastle 5 leans to world music, even including nature sounds of thunder and birds. It seems appropriate to close with the edited medley from Journey to a Different State of Mind, since the track does in miniature what the album does for Hardcastle's ‘90s and 2000s catalog in total, sum it up.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann