JAZZ REVIEW : Everyone Wins at the Jim Hall Invitational
This is the time for that annual nine-day wonder known as the JVC Jazz Festival. It is a time when critics moan about the use of non-jazz acts while producer George Wein groans about the shortage of young musicians and the difficulty of attracting audiences. It is also a time when the public proves them all wrong, by crowding into concert halls to salute artists of all ages. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Jim Hall Invitational Tuesday at Town Hall.
Hall, 59, has long been respected for his guitar mastery and lack of exhibitionism. The host, Pat Metheny, observed that Hall’s influence has extended even to those who have gone on to develop radically different styles.
The evening presented him in a dozen settings, from impeccably executed duos (with bassist Ron Carter, saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer) to a semi-classical ensemble that included a string quartet. His assurance that he had a “non-proliferation” treaty with the other guitarist, to avoid excessive volume, was faithfully remembered by all hands.
Hall ventured from shallow waters (a cheerful ukulele-like strumming on “St. Thomas” with Ron Carter) to deep experimentation, in an acerbic and atonal work, untitled, written 35 years ago when he was a student. The latter was one of three numbers with the Classical Heritage string ensemble, which also performed a rather turgid piece, “Abstract and Dreams,” with composer Don Thompson at the piano, as well as a fascinating item called “Laura’s Dream” that teamed Hall with the four mallets of vibist Gary Burton.
Written by Argentina’s Astor Piazzola, this was the climactic closer of the first half.
Later, Hall worked mainly in tandem with other guitarists, two of whom spurred him on to some of his most creative moments. John Scofield, in a 180-degree switch from funk back to jazz, drew spirited and aggressive mainstream sounds from a solid-body guitar and had Hall responding in time. On a more restrained level, Pat Metheny proved to be a soulmate for Hall as he brought a keening, mournful air to the Brazilian standard “How Insensitive” before the pair burst into a hard-driving series of exchanges.
Hall’s regular quartet was weakened by the unswinging piano of Gil Goldstein and the mood-shattering drum interlude by Terry Clarke. He seemed more at home trading choruses with his promising 20-year-old guitar student, Peter Bernstein.
For his finale, Hall fielded a 10-man band that included guitarists Bernstein, John Abercrombie, Mick Goodrick (playing a headless and almost bodyless guitar) and Scofield. To his credit, instead of jamming on a conventional blues they played a Hall composition, “Careful.” The title seemed especially fitting for an evening that had clearly been planned with loving care.