The magic that occurs when student meets teacher on equal footing years down the road is rare enough. With Jim Hallone of the most influential guitarists of the past half centuryhis spare approach, a reference point for younger guitar icons including John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Pat Metheny, has resulted in more magic than most. Hall and Metheny met successfully on Jim Hall & Pat Metheny (Telarc, 1999) and, while the elder guitarist also met briefly with Bill Frisell on a handful of tracks on Dialogues (Telarc, 1995), it was clear that the simpatico between them was profound and warranted further investigation. 13 years laterFrisell's star rising considerably during that timethe two reconvene for Hemispheres, a double-disc set with one disc of duo material and the other in quartet with bassist Scott Colley and Joey Baron, where their empathic relationship is finally and fully realized.
Frisell's music has always been about choicesometimes rejected by jazz purists, but choice nevertheless. When he intersects, on the duo disc, with Hall for his country-tinged "Family," with Hall's tender lyricism a thing of rare beauty, it's clear that for these two there's plenty of potential in all music. Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" is nearly unrecognizable were it not for Frisell first, then Hall iterating its theme over a series of sometimes sophisticated, sometimes simple voicings that lend it a fresh perspective.
The two duo free improvs are most impressive, however, especially the lengthy "Migration," where Frisell's arsenal of effects creates a canvas over which Hall demonstrates his unparalleled mastery of understatement; a guitarist who grew up in the mainstream but remains committed to exploring music wherever it takes him. Frisell's abstruse loops and reverse-attack lines create another-worldly space for Hall to subtly interject his own kind of economy.
Two Frisell tunes are given unusual duo treatments, particularly "Throughout," which follows a common approach to the session: play the piece straight from the chart, then perform an inverse, freer version. "Throughout" has been recorded by Frisell many times and in many contexts, but it's never sounded this open, this expressive. "Monica Jane" is more faithful, filled with the kind of skewed poignancy that's been a Frisell trademark since he first emerged in the late '70s.
Adding a rhythm section could tie a duo down; but Colley and Baron's sensitivity and telepathy retain a delicate openness on the quartet disc. Largely standards plus two Hall compositions and two free improvs, the warm-toned combination of Hall and Frisell remains dominant, with Colley and Baron providing a flexible backdrop that allows both guitarists complete freedom. Frisell has rarely sounded this straight-forward and jazz-centric since his duet record with Fred Hersch, Songs We Know (Nonesuch, 1995).
Hall has played in duet with many musicians in his lengthy career, but few collaborations have yielded as much honest, unassuming magic as Hemispheres, a characteristically understated yet emotionally rich set where so much is said with so little spoken.
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Personnel: Jim Hall: guitar; Bill Frisell: guitar; Joey Baron: drums (CD2); Scott Colley: bass (CD2).