And now for something completely different. Thankfully, I am blessed with the ability to love many types of music (although, not so thankfully, this can become very expensive). I came up listening to a capella gospel quartets as a pre-teen (got my love of harmony from those discs), then, in my very early teens, the teen-idol ruled the radiowaves (Annette Funicello - my first love, Paul Peterson, Fabian, Del Shannon's great "Runaway" - the first single I ever bought, etc...). The British Invasion kicked in in 1964-65, and there has never been a greater level of excitement in music generated since then, period. I had already had some five years of keyboard lessons and taught myself guitar, and I was primed to go head-over-heels into my lifelong love of music - listening, playing, writing, performing, recording...yep. Music is my best friend, and the only friend I've had that has never let me down.
Now then, along with The Beatles and The Stones and Dylan and the rest, I was equally enamored of such jazz greats as Jimmy Smith (great albums like "The Cat" and "Organ Grinder's Swing"), Mose Allison ("Live at the Lighthouse", "I've Been Doin' Some Thinkin'" and the great two-disc compilation from Rhino, "Allison Wonderland: Anthology"), and Tal Farlow ("The Guitar Artistry of" and "This is"). (Jim Hall, the great jazz guitarist and subject of this review, recalls Tal Farlow's warm, flowing, melodic style.) I was already playing clubs and lounges by age 15 (I looked 18), standards like "Ebb Tide" and "Satin Doll". I graduated to opening for big name touring rock bands and then on to recording in NYC...but that's another verrrrry long story.
And so, it's with this varied background, love, and knowledge of music that I come to offer my thoughts on jazz guitar legend Jim Hall and his 1975 release "Concierto", now available on stereo Hybrid SACD from the audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MoFi). Hall started recording his own LPs in 1957, has been a valued session man over the years, a bandleader since the mid-60s, and was still recording for Telarc in 2002. This MoFi disc includes two additional tracks and three alternate versions for a total of some 68 minutes worth of the most excellent jazz.
Before we continue, let's talk a little about jazz. If you have heard Bob James or Chuck Mangione or George Benson or Dave Grusin or The Yellowjackets or The Rippingtons, you ain't heard jazz. What you have heard is a bastardization of jazz known in various circles as jazz lite, or fusion jazz. This is general-public-friendly jazz-muzak, if you will. (That fusion jazz tag gets a little tricky, some saying Miles Davis invented the sound with 'Bitches Brew', and that it is legitimate jazz - others saying the phrase was coined in the latter 1970s with Chuck Mangione's popularity. For purposes of this review, we'll use the two terms interchangably - lite and/or fusion.)
Jim Hall plays real jazz. He's a jazz guitarist par excellence. His warm, smooth, expressive, melodic tone is equally at home on acoustic or electric guitar (the guitar on this disc sounds like a Gibson ES335, warm and full). One look at his sidemen on the 'Concierto' SACD reveals some of the biggest names in jazz. If you ain't really somebody, these cats ain't gonna be your sidemen! The great Paul Desmond on sax (he wrote the most familiar jazz tune extant, the 5/8 time-signatured "Take Five", done by The Dave Brubeck Quartet [for whom Desmond was the saxman] on their timeless 'Time Out'), Chet Baker on trumpet, the bassman's bass player Ron Carter on bass, Roland Hanna on piano, and the incomparable utilitarian session drummer Stevie Gadd. Jazz recording legend Rudy Van Gelder did the original engineering (as he did with some of Miles and Coltrane's stuff), which explains the excellent sound quality from the initial sessions. The recording quality of MoFi's release is astonishing. It puts Hall and the guys right there in your listening room. The ride cymbal so real you can almost touch it...it's all so natural sounding, and the presence is almost supernatural. If you're ever in a jazz club at 2:00 in the morning, you will probably hear something like this. These guys are warmed up, warmed over, and cookin' in a natural symbiosis that defies description. This is truly great jazz. Demo-quality jazz.
This is "cool" music, baby...being cool music...for slippin' and slidin' and movin' and groovin'...international cool. Play this stuff anywhere in the world. You will be cool. Anytime of the day or night, preferably late night...with someone special, or alone, just to contemplate the subtle, sweet intricacies and talent involved. Listen as Hall and Hanna anticipate each other, intertwining in an ethereal synch that can't be written on staff paper. Listen as Desmond's sax drips sexy cool, as smooth as satin. Stevie Gadd's drumming - as tight, and yet as inventive as they come, never missing an improvised beat. Ron Carter's bass foundation, talking with the lead instuments - just enough low-end, just enough bass-solo improv. Delight at Desmond and Baker's horns playing off of each other, blowing all over the place, high and low, and it all fits perfectly. Six pieces working as one - the sum greater than the parts. At times smooth, at times bouncin', at others swingin', never over-the-top...always so cool...
MoFi's Hybrid SACD of 'Concierto', by Jim Hall (the man who's been called "the father of modern jazz guitar"), is an excellent jazz album. If you wanna hear real, true, straight-ahead late-night in the club jazz, this is a great disc to listen to. The recording quality is simply awesome - demo-quality. Hopefully, this release will earn Jim Hall the respect he deserves even outside of the jazz community. Jazz guitar playing has never been warmer, sweeter, more melodic, or as effortlessly excellent as this. The call and response, the synchronization, the intertwining, the playing off of one another...There are many ways to play jazz. None of them is better than this. If you can't groove and feel cool while taking this in, thaw out man. You're up-tight. My highest recommendation!
(If this review interests you, also try Jim Hall's 'All Across the City', also available on SACD and just as equally impressive.)
Release Date: February 24, 2004
Tracks: 9 - Time: N/A
Produced by: Creed Taylor
You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To / Two's Blues / The Answer is Yes / Concierto De Aranjuez / Rock Skippin' (Bonus Track) / Unfinished Business (Unreleased Bonus Track) / You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To (Unreleased Bonus Track - Alternate Take) / The Answer is Yes (Bonus Track - Alternate Take) / Rock Skippin' (Unreleased Bonus Track - Alternate Take).
Jim Hall - Guitar
Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone
Chet Baker - Trumpet
Roland Hanna - Piano
Ron Carter - Bass
Steve Gadd - Drums.