Hall & Carter: Softly, As In a West Village Jazz Club

I took in a chunk of the sound check for Sonny Rollins‘ Beacon-Birthday show last September, and Jim Hall played a passage on “In a Sentimental Mood” that made me shake my head. “How does he think of this stuff?” Hall meets up with his old pal Ron Carter for a pair of duets tonight at the Blue Note. Go for the lyricism, stay for the counterpoint. The classic status of their Alone Together is unimpeachable; both the guitarist and bassist are string savants dedicated to subtlety. They periodically reunite, but it isn’t something
that’s all that predictable, so consider it an event. Plus: It’s the start of jazz season. Why not enjoy a nice summer night? And hey, don’t be surprised if you see other guitarists there. In a recent conversation with Nels Cline and Marc Ribot, Hall’s name came up quite a few times.

Here’s what Will Friedwald thought of their collaboration a few years ago.

Make the jump for a review of Jim Hall & Joey Baron’s duet disc.

Ghostly strums, soft feints, weighty whispers – they’re all floating through Conversations (Artist Share) exquisite duet date by guitarist Jim Hall and drummer Joey Baron. The pair has shared many a stage during the last two decades, and here, as usual, they make hay in the rather stark atmosphere that’s become the 80-year-old string icon’s home turf. But few of Hall’s previous outings are this arid. Conversations is truly all about micro maneuvers that spotlight the power of silence. From a splash cymbal tapped with a mallet, to a clutch of strings gently flicked, the 15-track program is built on a parade of subtleties.

It may begin with “Bag’s Groove” and place “St. Thomas” near its conclusion, but essaying standards isn’t what this disc is about. “Pollock” is a minute-long spray of sound that blends Hall curlicues and Baron clanks. “Monet” is similar, albeit with gentler edge. These approaches have more in common with those famed Derek Bailey & Andrea Centazzo hook-ups than, say, the sumptuousness of Hall’s duos with Bill Evans or Ron Carter. (And btw, when’s that sublime Artist House session with Red Mitchell going to finds its way to downloadville?).

Respect for open territory has always been part of the guitarist’s agenda, but he’s never dedicated this much time to free-range action. The title cut finds him at his most mercurial and inventive, stitching discrete phrases with the help of Baron’s cymbals. Here, juxtaposition is treated as a game strategy; one cluster of notes might suggest decorum, a follow-up phrase might be created to serve the interests of contrast. The logic of the continuum is determined by the musicians’ sense of immediacy.

Baron is an ideal duet partner for Hall. His opening of “Safari” sets a deep mood that the guitarist stretches further. Plus, the drummer can be both cinematic and groove-oriented. On the same track a single tom-tom thud leads to the trap set becoming a battery of hand percussion – diversity of textures is another of the program’s strengths. By the time the duo settles into the expanse of “Travelogue,” it becomes clear that Conversations is a testament to rapport that equally celebrates the profound impact of pith and the rich possibilities of exploration.

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