There are few albums in which chorus after chorus need to be listened to, studied, and most importantly, enjoyed.
Paul Desmond's recordings with Jim Hall are rightly considered some of the best small group jazz from the late 50's and early 60's, piano-less: alto, guitar, bass and drums. They achieved a symmetry seldom matched in jazz, not just because they were masters of their instrument, but because they took their time,lightly and politely.Such sympatico music certainly happens, but not often enough, and less so now, with the number of sidemen-true music-in any genre-comes from rapport, over and over again. And when it does happen, (as Arthur Miller said) attention must be paid..
"Listening to Hall now is like turning onion skin pages; one lapse of your attention and his solo is rent." Whitney Balliett
And, of course, Desmond's cool, dry,and ethereal playing have yet to be replicated.
Few jazz musicians understand the tremendous importance of space, of what NOT to play, and how to organise thoughts when telling a story. Both Desmond and Hall understood that music, as life, unfolds, and not to rush it, and in doing so, enjoy the journey; you see and hear much more.If this album does not make you understand more about jazz and story lines, take up another interest like curling..
It is hard to fully articulate how good an album this is, and to listen to it again and again for its poetry. Don't believe me? Desmond as a composer was outstanding, and the first cut, the title song, Bossa Antigua, shows his appreciation of melody, and understanding of Brazilian harmonics-he got it fully. And with Connie Kay, who gives it his usual immaculate rhythm and Latin beat, a cascading solo by Hall, and we're off and running to Rio...
"The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" is next (and there is an alternate take, which, while good, deserves to stay as an alternate). I have many versions of this standard, some musculuar, soft, avant-garde, and I dare anyone to play me a better version. Sensual, sinewy and poetic, both Desmond and Hall play magic, and own the song, as far as I'm concerned.
"O Gato" was written by Jim's wife, Jane, but credit on the liner notes-(written by Desmond) goes to Jane Herbert, assume her maiden name, as he refers to her only asy "Jim Hall's friend". From another interview, here is what Jane Hall added:
"O Gato was named after a cat we [Jane and Jim] had at the time named Pablo. At first the song didn't have a bridge. But when Paul recorded it, I was so inspired by his melodic improvising that I wrote the bridge". Got that right, melodic improvising, languid and pretty.
Desmnd takes the old Rodgers and Hart chestnut (seldom played or sung) "A Ship Without a Sail' out for a slow cruise. He sticks to the melody, (a hard one to sing) builds to a sensual 3 choruses and reworks it effortlessly, Hall comping and taking a seamless solo that literally hits all the right notes, Kay giving a lilt to make the song sway in the breeze. The melody stays and stays with you, a gem of a song.
The piece de resistance for me (and I think I first got the LP 25 years ago) remains Desmond's "The Girl From E 9th St". Desmond's puckish humour, from the title to the liner notes surface with this title, the antithesis to "The Girl From Ipanema" (remember this was recorded in 1964, at the height of the bossa nova craze).
A gorgeous tune, listen to it carefully. Jim Hall's solo is nothing short of astounding-understanding how to build a solo, his single lines and counterpoints are a thing of beauty, and a song that cannot be improved upon. Never heard anyone else attempt to play any of these songs, and if anyone knows other versions, I'd love to hear them.
Go buy this-or for that matter, anything by the two of them, listen, study, shimmy to it, and realise you are in the aural presence of artistic genius, and give them their due..