March 2011

Jim Hall & Joey Baron

Conversations is a trifle. Legendary guitarist Jim Hall and brilliant drummer Joey Baron create a low-key, experimental affair, more concerned with subtlety and texture than melody or harmony.

It’s not only the ensemble and ambitions that are small-scale. Nine of the 15 tracks are less than three minutes long, and only two—the standards “Bags’ Groove” and “St. Thomas,” both played with folksy relish—break four minutes. The seven shorter ones are little more than wisps of string-percussion interplay that barely move, if at all. “In Repose” places gentle waves of guitar chords over gentle waves of mallet-struck cymbals, ending just where it began. Then there’s “Uncle Ed,” a lively, 47-second hoedown that in context is simply bizarre.

The longer pieces develop only slightly more. The first half of “Conversations” is just an extension of the snippets; its back end gains indie-rock-ish melodic and rhythmic trajectory but still emphasizes mood and swagger. The nine-minute “Travelogue” is a sinister Americana landscape, complete with truly scary trap-kit breakdown: It could score a postmodern western during which a high-plains drifter takes bad ’shrooms. Interesting listening—Hall clearly took something away from his recent Bill Frisell collaborations—but hard to process.

Likely Conversations was always intended as a minor anomaly; nobody will accuse 80-year-old Hall of being set in his ways. That said, in Baron he finds perhaps his most sympathetic duet partner, one who listens and responds carefully yet steers clear harmonically. Here’s hoping they find a more substantial project on which to collaborate.

Originally published in March 2011
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