Saturday, April 23, 2011

CTI Masterworks Reissues Jim Hall's Concierto

As part of the 40th Anniversary of CTI Records, Sony through its CTI Masterworks imprint has reissued a remastered edition of guitarist Jim Hall’s Concierto. This 1975 release had Hall with a group that included Sir Roland Hanna on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, Paul Desmond on tenor saxophone and Chet Baker on trumpet. It was a collection of swinging, small group performances mixed with a rendition of Concierto De Aranjuez, the Joaquin Rodrigo composition that was a central part of Miles Davis’ classic collaboration with Gil Evans, Sketches of Spain. Don Sebesky, instead of orchestral arrangements, set it up for the sextet on this date.

The result is a solid album of what would have been considered mainstream jazz at the time. This swinging group played with a clean, cool tone perhaps best exhibited by the dry martini alto of Desmond and Baker’s tart, lyrical style thatcomplemented Hall’s own spare and lyrical style. There is almost a cool, chamber music quality to these performances which is not completely surprising given Hall spent time as a member of Chico Hamilton’s unique quintet that included cello and Buddy Collette or Paul Horn.

Cole Porter’s
You’d Be Nice To Come Home To, opens with Hall and the rhythm before Desmond enters followed by Baker who provides counterpoint during Desmond’s solo before taking a solo that focuses on his middle-range and continues the melodic qualities of this performance. Hall’s Two Blues is a brisk Hall original with Baker soloing before Hall takes the spotlight mixing single note runs with carefully voiced chords while the lovely The Answer Is Yes, was contributed by Jim’s wife Jane on which Hall’s solo is almost a duet with Carter as Hanna adds occasional chord voicings and Gadd lightly propels the groove.

As indicated, the centerpiece of this album is the sextet rendition of
Concierto De Aranjuez. WIth a hint of flamenco in Hall’s guitar, it is followed by Baker, evoking but not imitating Miles, and then Desmond enters with Baker weaving his trumpet around the alto. Obviously the feeling is quite different than provided by the Gil Evans orchestral arrangements with focus no longer simply on the trumpet. The recording is marvelous as with Hanna’s lead, Hall takes the first extended solo backed by the economical and quiet playing by Carter and Baker (along with Hanna’s spare comping) allows one to focus on how he constructs his solo and his deft use of a horn-like tone. Desmond follows with a hint of blues in his dry, songbird tone. Chet Baker’s solo is a bit freer than Miles’ playing on Sketches (which we know today that part of Miles’ solos were actually written parts), and fits the pensive playing of the others. Hanna follows with a solo and then Hall returns. Its captivating listening to the sweet lyricism that this group displays, although the performance does not reach the exhilarating peaks of Davis’ recording or the recent revisiting of it by Harmonie Ensemble New York.

Included on this release are two bonus tracks, the Ellington-Strayhorn
Rock Skippin’ at the Blue Note, and the Hall-Carter collaboration Unfinished Business was not on the original release. The former is a delightful quartet performance whose melody seems linked to Just Squeeze Me, while the latter brings out the lyricism of Hall, Carter and Desmond. Alternate takes, but not necessarily lesser performances, of the first three selections are also included to provide over an hour of music. As stated above, this was wonderfully recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, and while the latest Japanese reissues of this material has been remastered by Creed Taylor and Van Gelder and likely may be better sonically, the Sony reissues still sound wonderful. Concierto is an album of straight-ahead jazz that is substantial, quite lovely sounding and still sounding fresh and contemporary.

My review copy was provided by a publicity firm for the release.

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