Supported by the fan-funded alternative ArtistShare label, the two-disc release Hemispheres is collaboration between guitarists Jim Hall and Bill Frisell, joined by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Joey Barron on disc two. The recording documents how projects evolve when artists pull together without a plan necessarily to create unique product: a perfect recipe for invention.
It goes without saying that Hall and Frisell are masters of their instruments. Each has a specific direction and distinguishing channel in which to thrive. It helps that in this duo setting, longtime associate of Frisell, Tony Scher, is at the home-based mixing board.
On the first disc, the two guitarists dance with their fingers, occasionally strumming ("Beijing Blues"), rarely over-expressing with grandiose chordal gestures. Hall uses an acoustic guitar and Frisell his plugged-in (but not too deeply) Telecaster. The two simply rest with their instruments and coast through countless tunes including covers ("Bags Groove"), originals ("Waiting to Dance" and "Bimini" by Hall; "Throughout" and "Monica Jane" by Frisell), or those developed in duo improvisation ("Migration," Beijing Blues"). The guitar-picking, pedaling and amping, glides into tempered reverberation and is peppered with an even exchange between the two as they move from ostinato to ostinato or phrase integrated with phrase ("Throughout") to unify in angular bouts of synchrony ("Monica Jane"). The duet motif falls easily into the quartet setting as well; there is simply more sound with which Hall and Frisell can interact.
The studio session with the quartet is equally as controlled. The tunes range from a lesser-known Latin groove ("Beija Flor" by Cavaquinho) to well-known tunes ("My Funny Valentine," "Chelsea Bridge," "I'll Remember April") and improvisations from the foursome. Colley's bass pizzicatos infuse the aural space with yet another string dimension ("Card Tricks") and Barron's drum stick work supplies pulsations, which border on the outright percussive, sometimes in keeping with Frisell's pedaling enhancements ("Barbaro," "Here and Now"). Hall's lustrous sense of timing combined with Frisell's colorful and animated fingering ("Owed to Freddie Green," Beija Flor") endow the melodious musical lines with nothing but satisfaction. That four musicians, instead of only the two guitarists, can play within the same frame of mind, released from the boundaries of the expected ("Hear and Now"), communicates the message that the response to creative instinct is truly a freeing experience, bordering on the abstract in "My Funny Valentine," and exuding a sensual embrace in the Frisell/Hall interchange in a "In A Sentimental Mood."
The challenge in writing about music that is so even-handed and understated is that there are no extremes to hang onto. Because the plane the music travels on sustains a tension that is more than notable. It is the kind of tension that is so contained, it is explosive.
Visit Jim Hall and Bill Frisell on the web.
Personnel: Jim Hall: guitar; Bill Frisell: guitar; Joey Baron: drums (CD2);
Scott Colley: bass (CD2).