Bill Evans and Jim Hall’s Undercurrent was a key text in my early jazz listening decades ago, and ever since then the late guitarist’s music has been an ongoing pleasure – especially his work in duo settings. The less that surrounds him, the easier it is to hear the personality of his instrument, invariably hushed, limpid and certain. For me, that sound is just as seductive as the deeply inspired lines Hall’s known for, and this is especially obvious when he works with a bassist. That kind of deep sympatico – first documented in the ‘70s with Ron Carter and Red Mitchell – is central this newly-issued performance from the 1990 Montreal Jazz Festival with Charlie Haden.
Hall was Haden’s senior by eight years (the bassist passed in July), and a case could be made that while they came from different esthetic mindsets, their skill at reshaping melodies made them superb partners. Throughout their careers, clarity was paramount. Whether soloing or comping, each had a way of delivering interplay that’s hallmarked by certitude. When Hall joined Haden in Montreal, those parallels became super obvious. Their dovetails through “Skylark,” the lift Haden gives Hall (and the way he reciprocates) on “Big Blues” – each is indicative of shared perspective being squeezed into singular focus. To some degree, that squeezing is the essence of performance art. Here, at their first full concert together, these guys feel like they’ve been together for ages.
Another parallel: each of these masters boasts a similar carriage when it comes to crafting a solo – formal but folksy. Their “Body and Soul” could almost be a campfire song, something you’d sing to a sweetie on a summer night. And when you follow them through the liquid permutations of “Down From Antigua,” at 12:04 the longest track on the album and thanks to Hall’s unusually aggressive strumming a rarity that needs to be heard by anyone who calls themselves a fan of the guitarist, they couldn’t sound any more colloquial. Maybe its those magical Caribbean breezes working their way up to Canada, but one thing’s certain – by the time the open-ended escapades of “In The Moment” subside, these 10 strings do some dazzling hand-in-glove maneuvers. Empathy, it seems, is everything.