Jim Hall's Top-5 Jazz Guitar AlbumsNov 14, 2015
Guest Post by by Steve Raegele
While it goes without saying that Jim Hall’s recorded output is almost perfectly curated, obviously some gems shine brighter than others. This outing from 1989 was my entry point into everything elsehe ever did as I worked back from 1989 and continued to keep up with most of his work into the 90s. AATC was beautifully recorded (I have or had it on all three formats: Vinyl, Cassette and CD) with a uniquely sympathetic group of sidemen interpreting mostly original material. Check out the Brazilian inflected “Beija Flor” for a taste of what I think might be Hall’s best recorded guitar tone. (He was still playing his D’Aquisto at this point.) A masterclass in phrasing, colour, and nuance with elements of controlled “free” playing on tracks like “REM State”.
These Rooms features the enigmatic Tom Harrell on flugelhorn as well as Joey Baron on drums and Steve LaSpina on bass. A nice mix of Jim Hall originals and a few standards (I still play this arrangement of “With A Song In My Heart” to this day. It’s a waltz, and the second half modulates up a half step. Whoa!) There is also a sensitive rendition of My Funny Valentine. Check out the Jim Hall original Cross Court. Angular but melodic, it features lots of great ensemble passages with compositional elements for the players to dig into. Also, do yourself a favour and pick up Jim Hall’s book “Exploring Jazz Guitar”. It contains detailed charts and explanations of this and many other Hall tunes as well as insights into his philosophies on music and life. This record was released on Denon Jazz and is a fully digital recording. This was a big deal in 1988. It sounds great.
While not technically a Jim Hall record, it’s one of my favourites. I mean, how many records from the classic post-bop era feature a quintet with Piano (Evans), Guitar (Hall), Trumpet (Freddie Hubbard!) Bass (Percy Heath) and Drums (Philly Joe Jones!)? There isn’t a dud on the whole record and everyone finds their place in the music without ever cluttering it up. The title track is a minor blues with a beautifully arranged quasi-contrapunctal theme. Jim Hall’s solo features his trademark use of motivic development, colouristic flourishes, spot-on rhythmic sense and innate musicality. The arrangements of all the standards are exquisite, but I particularly love the renditions of “You And The Night And The Music” and the Disney theme “When You Wish Upon A Star.” Oh and his solo on “You Go To My Head” is great too. (If you want to learn how to sweep-pick triplets like a 1950s/60s jazz guitar star, absorb this solo!)
Ok, at this point I have to admit that some of my favourite Jim Hall records are in fact ones where he is a sideman. I think the reason for that is that he’s such a great sideman! He always contributes to the music and gives shape and structure to even the most sparse of material. Case in point: his playing on the up tempo title track “The Bridge”. No one would ever accuse Jim Hall of being a shredder, and this tune is inspirational to guitarists looking for other musical strategies to deal with playing up tempo tunes. I think he plays four bars of 8th notes total. And it slays! Also, I love his raw early tone on this. Gibson ES-175 and Gibson amp, I believe. No verb. Amazing.
I think we can agree that Bill Evans and Jim Hall liked making music together. They shared an elegance and an impressionistic take on jazz that lent their collaborations a uniquely cohesive quality. Intermodulation is a duo record (and it features a Jim Hall original that he would revisit in 1989 - “All Across The City”) and is, as one might expect, an intimate affair. The whole record stands up to repeated listens, and for guitarists, I think Jim Hall’s opening statement on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is as good as any a study in how to really play melodically on a tune that basically has very little in the way of harmonic surprises for the soloist. Transcribe it and be rewarded and humbled by the subtle sophistication of the master, Jim Hall.
Guest Post by by Steve Raegele
Steve Raegele is a guitarist based in Montreal. He’s played many styles of music (except Bluegrass) in dozens of cities across 4 continents. He enjoys playing jazz, rock, R&B and improvising creative music. As a sideman Steve has played the music of Thom Gossage, Isaiah Ceccarelli, Nicole Lizée, Christine Jensen, and many others. His trio record, Last Century, is available from Songlines.