, the new two-CD album by guitarists Jim Hall and Bill Frisell, is the year’s first jazz masterpiece, a work of spontaneous lyricism as glittering and joyful as anything either has recorded (and, given their histories, that’s saying a lot). Hall, who’s 78, and Frisell, who’s 57 and something of a protg, both have a tendency toward doodling when they’re not anchored by a rhythm section. But Disc One—10 tracks of barebones duets (including Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove,” Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” Hall’s anthemic “Bimini,” and several pure improvs)—are loose-limbered and air tight, the two trading harmony and melody, then merging the strands to the point where it’s unclear who’s playing what but it meshes and sings all the same. Disc Two—10 more tracks, mainly standards (“I’ll Remember April,” “Chelsea Bridge,” “My Funny Valentine,” “In a Sentimental Mood”), the guitarists joined by Scott Colley on bass and Joey Baron on drums—is no less free-spirited. Colley and Baron, who have played as sideman to both as well as many others, aren’t the sort to lay down rhythmic law; they splash color and weave textures along the leaders’ sinuous lines.
The duet sessions were recorded on 8-track analog tape, over five days in July 2007, in engineer Tony Scherr’s house in Brooklyn. They laid down 46 takes of 26 tunes, and picked presumably the best ones (which may explain the lack of doodling). The sound is wonderfully clear and natural, except for a 50Hz hum in one of the guitar amps—not loud but audible in soft passages. (Couldn’t someone have fixed the ground loop?) The quartet session was recorded in a single day, 14 months later, at Sear Sound—one of the great purist studios in New York—by the meticulous Joe Ferla (probably in DSD, though the liner notes don’t say so), and it’s more vivid still.
The album is released by AristShare, a label that gives musicians full control over their work along with 85% of royalties, which these artists fully deserve.