Bill Evans & Jim Hall: Undercurrent
If Undercurrent, the first and superior of two piano / guitar collaborations by Bill Evans and Jim Hall, (the other being Intermodulation produced four years later), were a book and not a record, then the blurbs on the back of the dust jacket might read:
"...Filled with almost fugitive nuance and effortless interaction"
"...Perfection in spiritual and technical communication"
Together, throughout the album, Evans and Hall sound like so much more than just a piano and guitar. Here we have minimalism stood on its head. The smallest number of musicians possible for interactive improvisation producing a sound as full and close as those big block chords in Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra".
The final take of "My Funny Valentine" is my favorite. On the original LP it's the first track. Here we discover the incredible interaction and flawless syncopation of which these two masters of beauty and technique are capable. Yes, it is effortless and lush. Listen especially to the incredible section where Evans plays big chords syncopated against Hall's intricate melodic improvisation. It blows my mind every time I hear it!
Listening to "Romain," I half-consciously, half-subconsciously, compare Evans' semi-rich chordal sadness with John Lewis' single-fingered sorrow on the MJQ's version from their "Pyramid" album.
My second favorite next to "Valentine" though, is "Skating in Central Park". Hall's replication of the skating rink bell, invariably evokes thoughts of smiling skaters, gliding hand in hand or huddled over cocoa, long mufflers slung around their necks, as the last streaks of red-yellow sun are replaced by lovely not lonely chilled gray, only to be warmed by Hall's bass-like guitar scoops against Evans' bright melodic right hand.
I have also written an article for this issue of All About Jazz. It's a retrospective looking back 35 years to when I first heard this LP. In it, and in this review, I hope I have revealed the incredible amount of emotion that this particular album has stirred in me from the first moment I heard, "My Funny Valentine". To this day, I don't think that any other piece of music provides to me, the sense of Mozartian perfection and completeness that this recording does.