Some artists use an onslaught of sound to envelope the listener; others use quiet to draw them in. It's interesting how even in a conventionally noisy club, when a compelling artist plays at a low level the audience seems to naturally quieten down, sitting on the edges of the seats and leaning forward to better hear what is going on. Such is the case with guitarist Jim Hall, one of the most soft-spoken artists in jazz and, arguably, one of the quietest players. While there is the occasional tinkle of a glass on his latest release, the live at the Village Vanguard Magic Meeting , one can tell from the first note that the audience is not only actively engaged, it is positively spellbound.
For his first trio recording in ten years and also, coincidentally, his first album on the fledgling cooperative ArtistShare label, which has already seen a successful first release by Maria Schneider, Hall demonstrates that aging has nothing to do with complacency. From the first notes of his original composition "Bent Blue," he demonstrates as contemporary a musical vision as artists half his age, all the while maintaining the grace and elegance that has characterized his playing since he emerged in the '50s playing with artists including Jimmy Giuffre and Bill Evans. Edginess is sometimes mistakenly corresponded with modernity, and while Hall is nothing but smooth tones and rounded edges, his harmonic conception continues to evolve, with lines that are at times soft and approachable, other times more oblique and abstruse.
Half the programme is dedicated to more outer-reaching material, including the aforementioned "Bent Blue"; saxophonist Joe Lovano's "Blackwell's Message," where drummer Lewis Nash coaxes all manner of sound with sticks, brushes, hands and fingers; and the folk-like "Canto Neruda," which is a showcase for bassist Scott Colley's always inventive solo work. The other half, while comprised of more standard fare including "Skylark," "Body and Soul" and the Sonny Rollins favourite, "St. Thomas," where Hall uses signal processing to give his instrument a steel drum-like texture, may be more immediately approachable, but Hall, Colley and Nash make them equally vital vehicles for collective improvisation. Hall has often been called the Bill Evans of the guitar, but his conception is far more spacious. Capable of swinging bebop lines, Hall is more disposed to favouring simple but distinguished lines where the decay of the note is as important as the note itself.
Hall's guitar sound alternates between a warm hollow body tone, which may be processed with effects like a harmonizer on "Bent Blue" and "Blackwell's Message," and a more natural acoustic sound. Every sound is faithfully recorded by engineer David Oakes, who manages to capture every nuance and every subtle shading from each member of the trio. Magic Meeting represents another advanced watermark in a career filled with high points, refined and graceful while highlighting an artist who continues to search for new avenues with every recording.
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