Jazz review: Jim Hall Quartet 80th Birthday Celebration


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Ruth Price has presented concerts at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood several times as part of her floating “Moveable Feast” series. Saturday night’s Jim Hall Quartet 80th Birthday Celebration appeared to be her best-attended event so far, with as many students present as her core demographic of older listeners. All were treated to a masterful display of instrumental virtuosity and group interaction.
Though a giant on his guitar, Hall is a thoughtful, quiet man.

His group — consisting of alto saxophonist Greg Osby, bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Joey Baron — utilized a chamber aesthetic of quiet exchange, yet often challenged the limitations of that format. Bar lines were sometimes trampled by soloists, free-time excursions occurred, and Osby’s alto felt like it might bust out of the confined dynamic range of the group. Though his influence is pervasive and he’s been recognized as a major stylist for more than 50 years, Hall emerged a creator — still creatively searching and avoiding clichés.


Two blues pieces had elaborate harmonic structures imposed on their simple chord structures. While Hall is a master of clean tone, chord placement and imaginative accompaniment, Osby quickly showed a choice for rhythmic filigree. His sound was vibratoless yet hard-shelled, and his loquacious lines spun and somersaulted around the rhythm section; not a single quotation was heard from him all night.
LaSpina took the lead on a Brazilian tune, and aside from his lyricism, was a far more prolix player than Hall. Baron was thoughtful throughout, paying special attention to the sounds and tones of his drum kit. That might mean swapping melodic epigrams with Hall or tapping the beat with his hands on Sonny Rollins’ island evergreen “St. Thomas.” The last saw Hall alter his tone to approximate a steel drum. It was a surprise in a night of surprises, all of them pleasant.

-- Kirk Silsbee