Over the course of five decades, guitarist Jim Hall has forged a distinctive path through a diverse array of settings. No matter what the context, Hall has a unique sound and sensibility that instantly identifies his playing. His latest Telarc recording, Jim Hall & Basses, finds the venerable guitarist in company with some of the leading bassists in the jazz world: Scott Colley, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Christian McBride and George Mraz.
"This latest chapter in Hall's discography falls on the intimate side of the ledger, and is one of his most elegantly conceived collections," according to the liner notes penned by Bob Blumenthal, whose album notes for Miles Davis and John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings won him a Grammy Award in 2001. "Hall has always matched up particularly well with bass players, since his highly individual approach to sound, line, texture, and space have allowed him to come closer than any other guitarist to creating music on his instrument comparable to that of a string section."
From start to finish, Jim Hall & Basses plays with the sonic and atmospheric edges of jazz, beginning with a folky, quirky track called "End the Beguine!," a rare 12-string guitar outing for Hall with a melody line led by Dave Holland, who teamed up with Hall for a stirring performance at the 2000 Montreal Jazz Festival. "Bent Blue," the followup track featuring Christian McBride on the low end, is only slightly more melodic than "Beguine!" but just as compelling. Further in, Hall offers a unique reading of the Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern standard, "All the Things You Are," with George Mraz lending a hand. Other standards include the Billie Holiday/Arthur Herzog composition, "Don't Explain" with Charlie Haden and the Latin-flavored "Besame Mucho" with Scott Colley.
Spread across the sequence is a series of experimental tracks, beginning with "Abstract 1," featuring Haden on this recording but originally composed when Hall was a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music in the late '60s. "Abstract 2" and "Abstract 3" are improvisational pieces that feature Colley and Mraz working together in a mesmerizing counterpoint. "Abstract 4" is a short, impromptu burst that showcases Colley, a regular member of Hall's trio lineup following the departure of Steve LaSpina.
Much of Hall's career has been about pushing the limits of jazz guitar. He was born into a musical family in Buffalo and raised in New York and Ohio. His mother played piano, his grandfather played violin and his uncle played the guitar. Hall began his guitar studies at age 10, and by age 13 he was playing professionally around Cleveland. When Hall heard Charlie Christian's guitar (Benny Goodman's recording of "Solo Flight"), he was immediately intrigued by the possibilities of jazz guitar and later developed a fascination with the stylings of Django Reinhardt. He earned a degree in music theory from the Cleveland Institute of Music and headed to Los Angeles where, as a member of the original Chico Hamilton Quintet, he earned national and international recognition.
A half century later, Hall continues to inspire both fans and fellow musicians with his "compositional" approach, his sound and ultimately his feeling for an instrument he has truly made his own. Jim Hall & Basses is another chapter in Hall's impressive and prolific career.