New from Jim Hall

ArtistShare, the musicians' self-owned label, has two live albums just out by the guitarist Jim Hall—a 3-disc set of trio sessions from 1975, revealing Hall at his peak as a leader, and a quartet date from 2010, showing him still in fine form at age 80.

The boxed set, Live, Vol. 2–4, is so called because it consists of the previously unreleased tracks from the weeklong gig 35 years ago, at the Bourbon Street jazz club in Toronto, that produced the album Live (Verve), widely regarded as among Hall's best. But this is hardly a grab bag of leftovers; most of it is as scrumptious as the original.

Like the original, the tunes are mainly standards ("In a Sentimental Mood," "Star Eyes," "Body and Soul," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Embraceable You," etc.), which Hall—flanked by bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke—handles with a jaunty elegance and a quiet swing.

But what made, and still makes, Hall so riveting—the guitarist of choice for leaders ranging from Sonny Rollins to Paul Desmond, and a leader himself who, for all his deceptive calm, has influenced a generation of adventurous guitarists (especially Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, and John Scofeld)—is his inventive harmony and rhythm. He plays his single-line melodies straight and crisp, lacing them with tightly strummed chords at intervals you don't expect and in voicings that bloom with indigo colors and a dash of dissonant spices.

The sessions were recorded by Don Thompson, the bassist, on a Sony TC 854-4 four-track tape recorder, which he kept and controlled right on stage. In a technical note, he recalls using a Beyer M160 mike on his bass, a couple of Sony condensers on the drums (one overhead, the other in between the two tom-toms), and an AKG on Hall. The album sounds spectacularly vivid.

The boxed set also includes a 122-page booklet of recollections and a disc of high-rez (24-bit, 48 kHz) audio files, which I haven't yet heard.

Hall's newest album, Live at Birdland, NYC (also on ArtistShare), consists of highlights, seven tracks' worth, from two nights at the Midtown Manhattan jazz club, where he played a mix of standards and originals with Steve Laspina on bass, Joey Baron on drums, and, on some of the tracks, Greg Osby on alto sax. Hall's playing isn't quite as fluent or economical as it was four decades ago, but he's still spry, imaginative, and deeply pleasurable. Baron is the tastiest drummer he's had in many years. And Osby (for whom Hall served as sideman, along with pianist Andrew Hill, on the 2000 album Invisible Hand) is in lyrical, bluesy form.

The sound is very good (James Farber was at the controls), with Osby's horn particularly lifelike, though Laspina's bass a little bit boomy.