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Jim Hall: Textures

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That Jim Hall has always been a composer practically goes without saying. After all, compositional concepts are at the core of his approach to improvisation, which utilizes motivic development. At the same time, he’s created some memorable “jazz” tunes over the years, including “Waltz New” and “Careful.” But what Textures reveals is that he’s a serious composer with an impressive catalog of works.

Writing for ensembles of varying sizes and using a wealth of devices, Hall conjures a spectrum of textures, moods, and atmospheres over the course of seven tracks. The three pieces for brass (“Fanfare,” “Reflections,” and “Circus Dance”) feature multi- dimensional harmonies and are rich with articulate dialogues between the instrumental voices. Of the two more extended compositions, “Ragman” is a programmatic work that utilizes a 15-piece string section, Joe Lovano on soprano, and an array of exotic percussion instruments to describe a character from Hall’s childhood, while “Passacaglia” is a modern, often free-flowing, take on a Baroque variational form. And “Quadrologue,” a quartet for electric guitar, viola, cello, and bass, dramatically unfolds as the individual voices merge and separate like a musical mobile.

Throughout, jazz elements are occasionally evident, but their use is a far cry from the usual jazz/formal music marriages that frame blowing sections with horn and string writing. And while Hall’s guitar factors into each work, it plays an organic role in the overall structure. In short, Textures reveals important heretofore unrealized facets of one of jazz guitar’s most brilliant figures.