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Jim Hall & Bill Frisell: Hemispheres

Jim Hall’s unique harmonic language, thoughtful phrasing, risk-taking sensibility and walking-on-eggshells sensitivity greatly informed Bill Frisell’s expansive guitar vocabulary. Indeed, as a student between stints at Berklee, Frisell sought out the elder guitar statesman for lessons. The two have since played together on rare occasions (including a couple of tracks on Hall’s 1995 Telarc outing, Dialogues) but nowhere in such deeply rewarding fashion as on this remarkable encounter.

The first CD is perhaps the most startling. A series of stark duets between guru and disciple, it is composed of 10 intimate, near-telepathic dialogues that run the gamut from enchanting ballads to swinging romps and swirling psychedelia. From the spacious opener “Throughout,” with Frisell’s signature digital processing loopage providing an ambient backdrop for Hall’s deliberate single-note exposition, to Hall’s luminous ballad “All Across the City,” a blues-drenched “Bags’ Groove,” the experimental 15-minute soundscape “Migration” and a surprising stab at Bob Dylan’s melancholy “Masters of War,” these are expressive, freewheeling guitar duets of extraordinary daring and soul. Elsewhere on this first disc the pair delivers Frisell’s Americana ditty “Family” with a tender, chamberlike touch and explores Hall’s buoyant “Bimini” with free-improv abandon.

CD two is a lively, somewhat more conventional quartet session with the stellar rhythm tandem of bassist Scott Colley and drummer extraordinaire Joey Baron, both of whom have logged plenty of bandstand time with Hall since the ’80s (Baron also performed and recorded for years with Frisell). Highlights here include a swinging, Latin-tinged “I’ll Remember April” along with a sublime rendition of “Chelsea Bridge,” a Zen-delicate “In a Sentimental Mood,” a jaunty “Owed to Freddie Green” and a swinging rendition of Sonny Rollins’ “Sonnymoon for Two” that could also be titled “Owed to Charlie Christian.” The radical surprises on this solid quartet offering are the provocative free-improv pieces “Hear and Now” and “Card Tricks.”

Originally Published