CD REVIEW: Charlie Haden & Jim Hall - Charlie Haden-Jim Hall

Charlie Haden & Jim Hall – Charlie Haden-Jim Hall
(Impulse! / Renaissance. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)

Bass icon Charlie Haden and guitar legend Jim Hall were well known for working in duet format, but this previously-unissued CD from the Montreal International Jazz Festival in July 1990 documents their first concert-length recording together. At the time, Hall was 59 years old and Haden was approaching 53.

Haden’s beautiful introduction to Bemsha Swing leads into Hall’s statement that develops from a single-note line into an excursion that’s packed with sparse (but not always simple) chords. In an accompanying role, Haden is rhythmically rock-solid and entirely “inside”, although his choice of notes makes you sit up and take notice. His solo is much more flexible.

Clean guitar chimes open Haden’s wistful and touching First Song. After arguably the best bass feature on the album, Hall resumes and does full justice to the composition right through to the final cadence.

Ornette Coleman’s blues Turnaround is one of the first things I heard in my long journey of jazz discovery, played by Haden in duo with the troubled pianist Hampton Hawes. The almost unbearable soulfulness of that ecstatic cut (from “The Golden Number”) is missing here, but Haden and Hall work well together. The former has symmetry and drive, and the latter brims with brio.

Haden’s folky side surfaces on Hall’s attractive Down from Antigua, and many will find the tenderness of Body and Soul and Skylark appealing. But the anticipated frisson created by the bassist’s emotionalism and the guitarist’s more measured style rarely results in inspiration. Big Blues starts well, as Hall crams in various tonal and rhythmic devices. Somehow, though, it stalls. Haden solos while Hall strums gently in the background. They sound completely at odds, and the communication that you might expect is absent.

Both men are thinkers and swingers, although for much of the time they skirt tentatively around the melodies, as if they are waiting for the other to do something. It’s great to hear a live recording “as it happened”, but, at 76 minutes, this is too long and few pieces in the latter stages of the concert – not even the more exploratory In the Moment - match the splendid earlier tunes.

While this collaboration may not come close to, say, Hall’s duets with Bill Evans, or Haden’s with Ornette Coleman, there are many fascinating passages in this historic encounter between two greatly missed jazz masters.

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