Guitars In NYC: Fred Frith, Frank Zappa, Jonathan Richman, Robert Cray, Lenny Kaye, Bob Mould, Frank Marino, Jim Hall & Roky Erickson
The Jim Hall Quartet
November 9, 2010
After a few days in which to recover, your scribe headed to the near-Times Square zone once again, this time for the late set at Birdland, where the music was resting at the furthest possible point from Marino's excesses. The very-nearly-80-year-old guitarist Jim Hall was perched on his stool, with fellow quartet members gathered in an intimate circle to make music of the utmost sensitivity and quietness. New York native Hall has chosen players from varied backgrounds, creating a chemical formula that's unlikely in its composition, yet very comfortable in its meshing. Drummer Joey Baron is increasingly found within the mellower realms of jazz, where his detailed approach to percussion and rhythmic suggestion can find startlingly fresh expression. Likewise, the bassist Steve LaSpina was adopting the lightest possible touch, delivering detailed lines that left plenty of open space. He prefers a singing, smooth sound rather than any gutstring brutalising or grainy dragging. Altoman Greg Osby seemed at first like the outsider, as though this normally extroverted blower was having problems operating at the required level of restraint. His first few solos would tail off without a fitting conclusion. This tendency was soon rectified, though. For the rest of the set, Osby seemed to perfect the art of making capsule, logical structures with a clear climax and conclusion.
The set was, on the surface, concerned with a very predictable run of standards. It didn't take long to realise that "Bags' Groove," "My Funny Valentine," "In A Sentimental Mood" and "Chelsea Bridge" were set to be lovingly deconstructed. Softly swilled around the mouth by a team of connoisseurs, but fortunately swallowed lovingly rather than spat, unwanted, into a bucket. About half way through "My Funny Valentine," I'd forgotten which tune we were hearing, only to be reminded when its theme eventually returned. This was a wonderfully labyrinthine soloing journey.
Hall was fiddling with his amplifier, never satisfied with his sound. However, his guitar has an attractively muted, clipping sound, not overdoing the jazz reverb. It's almost as though Hall is trying for a certain dryness, to maximise the percussive striking of his strings. The second half of the set moved into less likely compositions, with the Brazilian standard "Beija Flor" (named after a hummingbird), "Furnished Flats" (based around Benny Goodman's "Six Flats Unfurnished") and the tricky 16-bar blues "Careful." This was an ample performance, with an abundance of impeccable solos from all four players, not only masterful when alone, but also in their relationships with the glowing musical whole. Exquisite.
The Bell House
November 10, 2010