Jim Hall - guitar; Steve LaSpina - bass; Akira Tana - drums
One of the most elegant and influential guitarists of the past 50 years, Jim Hall had a profound impact on a generation of guitarists, including John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell and John Scofield. A contemporary of Wes Montgomery's, Hall first gained the attention of the guitar world in Chico Hamilton's cool West Coast ensemble during the late 1950s. His work on recordings by Jimmy Giuffre furthered his reputation in musician circles, but it was his participation on Sonny Rollins' landmark 1962 recording The Bridge that significantly elevated his profile. By the mid 1960s, he began leading his own trios. He appears at this 1986 Great American Music Hall concert with bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Akira Tana.
Dig the cool reharmonizations by the guitarist and the highly interactive playing of drummer Tana on the opener, "With a Song in my Heart," a jazz standard by Rodgers & Hart from the 1929 Broadway musical Spring Is Here. LaSpina's remarkably melodic upright solo on this show tune is deftly underscored by Tana's brisk, supple brushwork and Hall's driving rhythm guitar work. They next tackle Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk" with the same spirit of experimentation, in terms of reharmonization and time displacement. Tana's brushes work here is once again supportive and uncannily melodic, as he clearly states the theme on his kit through the head. LaSpina again delivers an agile, high register upright solo that sounds like it's coming directly out of the Eddie Gomez school of bass virtuosity. Tana cleverly reverts to playing with his fingers on the drums behind LaSpina's powerful solo, then picks up sticks for a shuffle groove beneath Hall's slyly reharmonized solo. Note his adventurous choices on this quirky blues as the rhythm section drops out, allowing the guitarist to find his own way in creative, spontaneous fashion.
Next up is the oft-covered standard "All the Things You Are," which the trio introduces with a dynamic twist at the outset (check LaSpina's clever use of a buoyant Latin-flavored "Night in Tunisia" type bassline on the intro) before settling into the familiar theme. Tana starts on brushes as LaSpina grooves mightily underneath on solidly swinging, contrapuntal basslines that work against the flow of Hall's melody lines. The guitarist's use of space, time displacement and altered chordal voicings here is absolutely masterful. And LaSpina turns in another bass solo that crackles with stunning virtuosity on top of Hall's sparse comping and Tana's syncopated brushwork. A special treat toward the end of this unique interpretation of the 1939 Jerome Kern nugget is the rapid-fire exchanges of eights between guitarist Hall and drummer Tana before returning to the head. Hall's "Three," title track of his 1986 Concord Jazz release, is a delicate and lyrical waltz-time ballad reminiscent of "Skating in Central Park," the John Lewis tune which Hall famously recorded in duet with pianist Bill Evans on their 1962 album, Undercurrent. The guitarist's daring, unaccompanied extrapolation on the theme in midsong here brilliantly showcases his subtle genius.
The trio's version of the familiar standard "Secret Love" is again handled with a bit of twist. Aside from Hall's reharmonization of the head, Tana lays down an infectious cadence that is somewhere between drum 'n' bugle corp and N'awlins second line groove. The guitarist's playful extrapolation on the harmonic fabric of the tune is, once again, textbook Hall. LaSpina delivers another solo here that speaks of his remarkable facility and penchant for melodicism. Hall engages in some frisky exchanges with drummer Tana before the three return to their utterly unique take on the head. And Hall takes great liberties with the harmony on the tag.
Their delicate interpretation of Billy Strayhorn's gorgeous ballad "Chelsea Bridge" makes zen-like use of space while maintaining reverence for the hauntingly beautiful melody. They close out their eclectic set with Hall's infectious, islands flavored original, "Down from Antigua," which the guitarist first recorded in duets with bassist Ron Carter on their intimate 1982 Concord album, Live at the Village West. As expected, LaSpina has a major role on this buoyant closer, and he more than fills Carter's rather larger shoes with his superb bass playing. Tana is also prominently featured with an extended and dynamic drum solo that he builds gradually in classic narrative fashion. Midway through this upbeat ditty, the rhythm section drops out and the ever-adventurous guitarist begins experimenting with his volume knobs, creating dissonant chord clusters and textures while detuning his instrument, playing with natural harmonics and smacking the strings for percussive effect. For this minute or two, he sounds like the 'outest' guitarist this side of Derek Bailey, showing that his signature creative streak was in full effect 27 years ago on this superb Great American Music Hall set.
Born on December 4, 1930 in Buffalo, New York, Hall grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and began playing the guitar at age ten when his mother gave him one for Christmas. In 1955, he attended the Cleveland Institute of Music where he studied music theory and began composing his earliest pieces. After moving to Los Angeles the following year, he became a part of the West Coast cool jazz scene as a member of Chico Hamilton's progressive jazz quintet. He subsequently recorded with the Jimmy Giuffre Three and in 1959 worked with Ben Webster, Bill Evans and Paul Desmond. Following tours with Ella Fitzgerald in 1960 and a stint with Lee Konitz in 1961, he joined Sonny Rollins' group and recorded the influential 1962 album, The Bridge. He made some important recordings with Art Farmer in 1963-1964 and around that same time began leading his own trio. Since then, Hall has led various trios that are all characterized by a high degree of interplay and also showcase his penchant for complex arrangements and creative improvisations. A frequent poll winner, Hall recorded a daring solo album in 1994 and later recorded intimate duets with guitarists Pat Metheny (1999's Jim Hall & Pat Metheny) and Bill Frisell (2008's Hemispheres) and also with drummer Joey Baron (2010's Conversations). At age 82, Hall continues to gig around the world with his current quartet featuring alto saxophonist Greg Osby, bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Joey Baron. - Bill Milkowski