How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
I know how reviews of this CD are going to go: the highest of praise for Jim Hall's amazing guitar work, critics grasping for words to describe Joe Lovano's chameleonic talent and tone...
...and incidental acknowledgement to the goes-without-saying professionalism of George Mraz and Lewis Nash.
Grand Slam, the quartet, consists of the highest caliber of musicians who contribute equally to its success, even though the tunes arise from Hall's and Lovano's imaginations. This review is potentially against the grain of the other future reviews by praising the rhythm section's sensitivity and highest level of instrumental mastery.
It becomes obvious fairly soon in this CD that the execution of the music would be fairly free and contrapuntally intertwinedas was Jimmy Giuffre's rhythm section-less trio of reedsguitar and trombone, without Mraz and Nash's elaboration of implicit pulse and mood. Indeed, the opening track, "Slam," refers to Giuffre's innovative trio, with its call-and-response nature. But Mraz and Nash enliven the piece and engage the audience with a connectiveness that the rhythmless group may have lacked.
"Chelsea Rendezvous" highlights the excellence of Mraz and Nash even more, as they, as well as Hall and Lovano, take different but parallel avenues of approach before converging at the final thoroughfare. That is, the individuality of Mraz and Nash matches Hall's and Lovano's individuality point for point. "Border Crossing," with its dramatic depiction of the perils of illegal entry, succeeds largely because of Nash's creative use of the kit to suggest danger through the cadences of the guards, as well as the rolling portent of life-changing risk-taking. Nash's work on Lovano's tribute to Ed Blackwell, "Blackwell's Message," is a classic as he illuminates the drums' melodic capacity and their ability to project humor and fear and joy.
Mraz amazes as well, ever using his instrument as another voice in conversation with his friends. Rather than assuming the conventional role of bassist, Mraz rises to the level of personalized voice that does more than support the other musicians: He engages them and exchanges ideas for a heightening of conceptual execution. The fleetness of his work on "Slam" calls for repeated listening to comprehend the complexity of his apparently off-handed thought.
And then there are Hall and Lovano.
Seemingly on an unstoppable roll through inspiring work with people like Pat Metheny and Greg Osby, Jim Hall continues his subversion, assuming the character of a relaxed, genial guitarist with a reassuring sound. In actuality, Hall is angular and innovative with sparks catching the listener unawares. While Hall may seem to comp conventionally on "Slam," his solo evolves into variations on the blues theme that create yet another approach into a form that's an endless source of inspiration. On "Say Hello To Calypso," his nod of the head to Sonny Rollins, what seems to be an outlining of the melody actually turns into an allusion to steel pans with a change of timbre.
Yet another equal in Grand Slam, Joe Lovano, respectful and still evocative, adds perspective to the tunes by drawing on his must-be-bottomless reservoir of influences and ideas. "Blackwell's Message" attains a suggestive depth alternating with upper-register flights of improvisation to take advantage of the alto clarinet's duality of range: not quite soprano and not yet into the extremities of the bass clef. Suggesting flight on "Border Crossing" with his soprano sax, Lovano moves on to tenor with "Chelsea Rendezvous" to once again reveal his inimitable tone.
Recorded live at the Regattabar in Boston, Grand Slam represents a teaming of contemporary masters that deserves all of the praise it undoubtedly will receive.
Slam, Chelsea Rendezvous, Border Crossing, Say Hello To Calypso, Blackwell's Message, All Across The City, Feel Free
Joe Lovano, soprano, alto & tenor saxophone, alto clarinet; Jim Hall, guitar; George Mraz, bass; Lewis Nash, drums