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Tonight At Noon - by Lawson Primm
Collaborative Art –Lyrical magic from guitarist Jim Hall
(And Bill Evans, Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan, & Sonny Rollins)
"Lawson, I like this one - a good day - easy playing
The year was 1979. I had seen the Bill Evans Trio (Evans, drummer Joe LaBarbera, and bassist Marc Johnson) perform the night before at Ricks Café in The Holiday Inn on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Now, he was sitting on a stool at Rose’s records. I picked up the Japanese pressing of his Riverside album, Interplay and brought it to him to sign. The album featuring trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bassist Percy Heath, drummer Philly Joe Jones, guitarist Jim Hall and of course pianist Bill Evans was a low key, swinging all star one –off, the first recording date that Evans is featured as the leader of a group larger than a trio.
The sight of the album at Rose’s that morning seemed to bring wistful pleasure to Bill as if he was reliving a wonderful and stress free experience. These musicians were playing for the opportunity to step back from the propulsive nature of the emerging post-bop sound of the day (the year was 1962) and focus on the intricate lyrical aspects of simply playing great music together.
I have always loved quiet, lyrical swing in jazz and marvel at the ease at which certain musicians can telepathically converse in a musical context to create wondrous beauty. A fitting sports analogy is watching a great double play tandem in baseball turn twin killings in a relaxed and almost effortless fashion day after day.
On Interplay (available in the recent series of remastered, re-issued cds from Prestige), Evans leads the quintet through a set of standards, highlighted by his own blues, "Interplay". The group shines on the standards "You and the Night and the Music" and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams". Hubbard flashes the brilliance he was sadly never to fully realize and Miles Davis’s preferred drummer Philly Joe drives the crack rhythm section. But it is guitarist Jim Hall, replacing the traditional saxophone in the lineup who teams with Evans in inspiring lyrical collaboration throughout.
(By the way, to digress – Rolling Stone Magazine just named the top 100 guitarists of all time. Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Pat Martino Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Sonny Sharrock, and Jim Hall are not on the list. Can you believe that?)
Hall is the common link in several important reissues released within the last year. He has appeared on numerous sessions since the early Sixties and has been active to the present as a leader recording for Concord and Telarc, and in the New York club scene over the course of the last 20 years (check out the 1997 Telarc release Panorama, Live at the Village Vanguard). He is best in intimate settings and no recording exemplifies his artistry more concisely than Jim Hall Live featuring his long-standing trio including bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke. Originally released on A&M Horizon in 1975, Jim Hall Live was recorded at Bourbon Street in Toronto. Like Miles Davis at The Plugged Nickel and Paul Desmond Live, the recording is pristine enough that you can hear the ice cubes in patron’s drinks. But it is the happy, focused playing from all involved that makes the date special. Hall says it best when asked about recording live in a club: " Let me count the whys - playing for the moment, joy, sense of humor, chance taking, stretching to reach your potential, and sometimes missing, playing to a receptive audience, and trust in the other musicians". He opens with Sinatra’s Angel Eyes in double time, dabbles in the harmonically rich Round Midnight, and quotes Charlie Parker in fact and in spirit in his classic Scrapple From the Apple. As critic Doug Ramsey raves, "He is a wizard, truly the only contemporary guitarist to be mentioned with Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt."
The RCA Jazz imprint Bluebird has been resurrected in the past year or so and has released several excellent reissues, each featuring jaw dropping sound quality. Two outstanding releases from 2003 both feature Hall; this time with three of Jazz’s most important horn players.
The Bridge by Sonny Rollins was a landmark recording from 1962 with an interesting history. Rollins who was then an up and coming star and the subject of much hype and publicity, decided to drop out of sight in 1959 to work on his craft in private. The writer Ralph Berton and his wife were walking home one night and heard the sound of Rollins playing atop the pedestrian walkway of the Williamsburg Bridge near his home. Rollins was there to think about himself and the musical direction he would pursue. What Berton heard that night has been eloquently described in the liners; "They were startled to hear a saxophone – expert, first-class jazz tenor sax, the sound of a master – amid the yawping of seagulls, the mooing of tugboats, and the swish of traffic."
The Bridge is aptly named to indicate that this album was the bridge between the Sonny of the fifties and the Sonny of the sixties. This time Hall’s guitar is a substitute for the piano and lends the performances a lyrical, serene quality. Their cat and mouse games color the music beautifully especially on the title track, "John S", and a definitive instrumental recording of Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog’s tender ballad, "God Bless The Child".
Gerry Mulligan was the premier baritone sax player in Jazz history and he had the good fortune to record several magical albums with the other greats of the day including Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk and Paul Desmond. On the Bluebird reissue, Two Of A Mind, altoist Desmond and Mulligan skip happily together, intricately trading riffs and riding on a sea of melodic inventiveness. Desmond had a delicate and subtle style that was enhanced when playfully challenged and Mulligan’s baritone is a perfect counterpart. Hall appears on two bonus tracks here and provides the rhythmic backbone for a two baritone experiment from Mulligan and Desmond, "Untitled Blues Waltz" that is exhilarating. As mentioned earlier, the sound quality on both of these recordings is incredible. (By the way another great sounding Bluebird release that you will enjoy is Desmond Blue, a terrific recording of standards with orchestra. Hall again is beautifully in sync with Desmond’s lyrical style)
Jim Hall has always been in the background, but he is an integral part of the music of two of jazz’s timeless masters, Paul Desmond and Sonny Rollins. His recordings with Bill Evans, Ron Carter, Joe Lovano, Art Farmer, and Greg Osby among many others is testament to the respect he has earned and the desire that serious musicians have to fully engage in creative collaboration with him..... And if you you're ever in Greenwich Village, the opportunity to catch him live is a treasure that is not to be missed.