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Seventy-two-year-old Jim Hall shows little indication of slowing down. He has been performing on the Telarc Jazz roster since 1994 and has produced nine recordings for the label, only missing 1996 as a release year. These recordings have received broad and receptive commentary from the critical community. These recordings approach jazz from a variety of directions, all intelligent, all inventive. Telarc, who has recently released a spate of compilation discs ( Signature Songs , Telarc Jazz—Celebrating 25 Years , In the Pocket—A Taste of Blues Harmonica ), has hit a home run with Jim Hall Down Beat Critics Choice, which will surely make this writer’s end-of-the-year-best-of list.
I typically do not laude these types of compilations, but this one is so uniformly fine and complete that it cannot be ignored. Here in a mere 72 minutes is an intimate look at what Mr. Hall has been doing the past 10 years. This disc hinges on the three pieces from the groundbreaking Textures (Telarc Jazz 83402, 1997). This music is composed and scored for guitar and brass and guitar and strings. It has a major modern classical flavor and is very similar to James Chirillo’s work with John Carisi on "Counterpoise #2" from Sultry Serenade .
The swinging planks on either side of this hinge are decidedly progressive jazz in different forms. The disc opens with three selections from Hall’s 1997 release Dialogues (Telarc Jazz 83369) where the guitarist duets with trumpeter/composer Tom Harrell on an ethereal "Dream Steps," fellow guitarist Mike Stern on an atmospheric "Stern Stuff." These duet selections are concluded with "Snowbound" performed with Gil Goldstein on the accordion. The result of this pairing is best described as Maurice Kagel meets Astor Piazzola. On the other side of the quasi-classical hinge are selections from Live at the Village Vanguard (Telarc Jazz 83408, 1997), which features 1950s-style blowing with Geoff Keezer and Greg Osby. By Arrangement (Telarc Jazz 83436, 1998) selections sport Hall performing with Louise Schulman’s solo viola and Greg Osby’s alto saxophone and the New York Voices, all in a very progressive, yet disciplined mode.
The disc closes with a pair of tunes ("Abstract 3" and "Tango Loco") both with Hall performing against the dual basses of Scott Colley and George Mraz from Jim Hall and Basses (Telarc Jazz 83506, 2001). The results are a continuation of Hall’s foray into the semi-classical/semi-jazz realm. I could not endorse this disc any more strongly. It is the perfect representation of Jim Hall I the later part of his career. Discs like this make one wish for many more healthy and happy years of this musician and music.