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At first glance this may seem like a thrown-together all-star session. It’s actually an inspired collaboration between four heavyweights who have all worked together in various projects over the years. The pairing of Jim Hall and Joe Lovano is propitious from the very first notes of Hall’s "Slam," one of the wildest blues heads you’ll ever hear. Hall’s solos on this and several other tracks are processed with a harmonizer, allowing him to articulate his ideas in fourths, fifths, and octaves. On his distinctly Rollins-esque "Say Hello to Calypso," the device is set to mirror the played note up two octaves, producing an effect that sounds uncannily like a steel pan. On Lovano’s "Blackwell’s Message," Hall’s minimalistic, phase-shifted solo sounds almost like something John Scofield might play. Dedicated to the late drummer Ed Blackwell, this track is a superb example of Lovano’s "outside" writing, the kind heard on disc one of 1995’s Quartets, for instance: abstract yet with a subtle, infectious groove at its very core. Lovano’s alto clarinet provides an additional, intriguing layer.
Mraz and Nash were once the rhythm section for the mighty Tommy Flanagan, so their strong rapport is never in doubt. Mraz takes an especially good solo on Hall’s "All Across the City," a ballad that the guitarist has recorded in two very different duo contexts, with Bill Evans in 1966 and with Pat Metheny in 1999. Nash holds together the chaotic "Feel Free," which the group cleverly splits into two duo passages — the first featuring Nash and Lovano, the second Hall and Mraz.
Grand Slam is not a one-time blowing session, but a well-constructed dialogue between four inventive musicians with highly complementary musical visions.