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Hemispheres by Jim Hall & Bill Frisell

The release of any Jim Hall recording is cause for celebration.... among fellow guitarists, among jazz enthusiasts, or even among those who appreciate disarming but challenging ideas expressed through music. Hall never lets down the listener, always spontaneously being himself and injecting thoughtfulness into the music that unfolds. In the case of his latest album, Hemispheres, the enjoyment is doubled when at first Hall enthusiast and then student of Hall, Bill Frisell, joins him on two CD’s that cover at a leisurely pace their own compositions as well as those of composers whose songs they enjoy, such as Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins or even Bob Dylan. Of course, Frisell has moved into other pathways to investigate intriguing possibilities afforded by music, including country, avant-garde, American folk song, atmospherics or film or photo exhibition accompaniment (such as his Buster Keaton or Disfarmer projects). Comfortable and original and exploratory and playful, Hall and Frisell are well aligned in aesthetic sensibilities, despite their separation by a generation in age. As a result, anything could happen when they perform together, and much does in this classic match-up that will remain much admired long into the future.

Another perspective of the singularity of Hemispheres is the marketing departure that ArtistShare, the album’s recording entity, has applied to the project, similar in some ways to all of its other recordings even as each of ArtistShare’s artistic packages remain unique. First of all, various levels of donors funded Hemispheres, bypassing the normal commercial means of producing albums. I do have to mention two of the more eyebrow-raising donors contributing to Hemisphere’s production. First, there is Maria Schneider, who herself benefited from the ArtistShare vision when her Sky Blue won virtually unanimous rave reviews in 2007. The other donor of interest is Gary Larson: yes that Gary Larson who drew The Far Side cartoon, that Gary Larson who provided the cartoon cover for Hall’s 1993 album Something Special, that Gary Larson for whose quirky 1996 TV special Frisell wrote the quirky music. On top of that, however, ArtistShare, true to its vision, encouraged some project participants to follow the progress of the album throughout its development by viewing recording sessions live. And the cover artwork for Hemispheres is Susan Warin’s, who submission was considered with others. Participant Devra Hall named the album.

But the music! Frisell’s intention was to create intriguing backgrounds, those uniquely identified with him, over which Hall could play during the duo recording over the course of six months. And the most memorable of the memorable tracks would be the 15-minute-long "Migration," composed spontaneously in one prolonged burst of creativity by both guitar masters. As intended, Frisell modified the atmosphere of the proceedings while Hall led with changes of mood and thought, from extended sections of sustained notes, one layering over the next, to a bolero-type rhythm for nudging momentum. Still, the mood varies from track to track as they re-interpret Hall’s "All Across the City," played in other circumstances on other Hall albums, with slow unfurling of notes, Frisell following so closely that his could be echoes of Hall’s. The pulsating undulations of "Bimini," calmly expressed, contrast with Frisell’s more ethereal resonating pattern behind Hall on "Throughout." The ruminative, unrushed approach to Dylan’s "Masters of War" precedes the ambling, and succinct, "Beijing Blues."

The duo recording at Tony Scherr’s house was completed in December, 2007, but the scope of the Hall/Frisell project remained unrealized. But Hall’s three-month-long hospitalization intervened. Once discharged, the plans for the second session resumed, and the quartet session with Scott Colley and Joey Baron took place in September, 2008. Seemingly more conventional with "I’ll Remember April" at first, as the guitar-led rhythm section surges as Hall improvises and then breaks into walking-bass force, the guitarists remain true to their mission of sonic exploration when they move into the free improvisation of "Barbaro" (on which all members of the quartet share compositional credit due to the unplanned nature of its spontaneity). Though "Barbaro" consumes but two-and-a-half minutes, all of the members of the quartet contribute individually and collectively with their own opposing and complementary sonorities, Frisell’s languorous atmospheric guitar work overlaying Colley’s onrush of bass lines. Hall’s appreciation of Freddie Green’s unassuming rhythmic guitar work allows for relaxed swinging give-and-take between Hall and Frisell over Baron’s rustling brushwork. The quartet covers more written material, such as "Beija Flor," which provides the opportunity for the string instruments to trade choruses of melody. While one would expect a meditative, eerier treatment, full of sonic effects, of "My Funny Valentine," instead they provide an up-tempo version that allows for easy improvisation. On the other hand, "In a Sentimental Mood" comes across in the way that "My Funny Valentine" was expected to, with haunting, ringing, sustained chords, harmonic alterations, Colley’s suddenly improvised vamp and Baron’s percussive colors.

Once again, Jim Hall, benefiting from the ingenuity of ArtistShare and the empathetic interplay with just-as-unique Bill Frisell, has recorded yet another collectible album that will stand the test of time.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jim Hall & Bill Frisell
  • CD Title: Hemispheres
  • Genre: Various Jazz Styles
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: ArtistShare
  • Tracks: Disk 1: Throughout, All Across the City, Bags Groove, Migration, Family, Waiting to Dance, Bimini, Masters of War, Beijing Blues, Monica Jane. Disk 2: I’ll Remember April, Barbaro, Chelsea Bridge, Owed to Freddie Green, Beija Flor, Hear and Now, My Funny Valentine, Card Tricks, In a Sentimental Mood, Sonnymoon for Two
  • Musicians: Jim Hall, Bill Frisell (guitar), Scott Colley (bass), Joey Baron (drums)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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