One of the great understated figures of the jazz guitar, Jim Hall will be 74 in December, yet he still maintains a startlingly youthful curiosity about music. He managed to have it both ways before a nearly packed house of attentive aficionados — pushing away from the mainstream on some numbers, doubling back toward safer ground on others, and clearly relishing it all behind his impassive demeanor.
Younger guitarists have fed off Hall’s distinctive mellow tone and unique chord voicings for generations — Pat Metheny, John Scofield and John Abercrombie come to mind — yet Hall, in his cyclical way, seems to be feeding off them in turn.
With often minimally stated solo intros from Hall — bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke followed as best they could — tunes fell together in a deliberately casual way. The standard “My Funny Valentine” was followed by the quirky original “End the Beguine,” a fascinating incantation in which Hall sprayed soft, dissonant chords all over the place while Thompson’s bass droned underneath. Hall caressed his honeyed trademark chords in “Body and Soul” and then embarked on another sardonic original, “Bent Blue,” playing angular counterpoint to a drum solo.
Thompson switched to piano and Hall improvised an untitled freeform thing dedicated to “peace” — with abstract, atonal single lines overlapping and interweaving. Hall likes to play with effects devices, doubling single lines into octaves in “Valentine,” or charmingly simulating a set of steel drums in the last chorus of his former sparring partner Sonny Rollins’ calypso, “St. Thomas.”