Jim Hall – Downbeat Critics’ Choice
(Telarc – 2002)
by Shaun Dale
By the time he entered his fifth decade on the scene in the 1990s, guitarist Jim Hall had logged tenures with Chico Hamilton, Jimmy Guiffre, Sonny Rollins, Ella Fitzgerald, Paul Desmond and Art Farmer, in addition to developing an impressive catalog as a leader. He had reached a stature that would have allowed him to glide through the decade, maybe turning out a tribute or two to his old cohorts drawing admiring throngs to clubs coast to coast while he mined his extensive book for nostalgic satisfaction. Instead, he set off on perhaps the most creatively adventurous period of his career. This disc draws from five of his Telarc releases between 1995 and 2001, featuring his original compositions in a variety of settings. From duets to big bands, with the odd string orchestra and the New York Voices thrown in for good measure, on stage or in the studio, Downbeat Critics’ Choice shows off a true jazz master at the very top of his form.
The sidemen for these sessions include some stellar names, too. The most notable contributions come from guitarist Mike Stern, bassists Scott Colley and George Mraz and, on a pair of the best cuts the album offers, alto saxophonist Greg Osby. ‘Best cuts’ is a term best used with considerable reservation here, though, because the quality – of composition, play and improvisation – is consistently superb on every track.
If you’ve kept up with Jim Hall’s career, you’ll be happy to have these outstanding performances gathered in one place. If you’ve lost track of, or somehow never noticed, the guitarist, this is a great way to get caught up or introduced.