Jim Hall & Pat Metheny is the kind of duet album that makes jazz-guitar freaks drool. It captures two modern masters playing informally without a bass-and-drums safety net or any gratuitous studio polish. It's a delight to hear Jim Hall and Pat Metheny -- two of the most esteemed and influential guitarists of the past 25 years -- work through a set of memorable originals, timeless standards, and a few completely improvised pieces. n Hall is widely recognized as the godfather of modern jazz guitar. Metheny, a generation younger than Hall, is regarded as one of the most gifted and influential players of his crop. Both are respected as adroit improvisers, and each has his own unique and highly developed harmoniclanguage. They also swing hard and are sensitive accompanists. (For an exclusive comping lesson with Hall, see "Less Is More.")
Jim Hall & Pat Metheny fulfills its promise of guitar greatness over and over. Blending the sophistication of a thoroughly conceived masterwork with the homespun charm of a high-quality bootleg (several tracks were recorded live in a small theater), the album has more than its share of bright moments. GP recently visited Hall to get the low-down on how the project came together, and get his insights on recording, duos, and dynamics.
How did the album come about?
It's quite a story. I first met Pat when he was 15. He had come to New York to study with Atilla Zoller at a summer jazz camp, and Atilla brought Pat to hear me play. I kid Pat about it now -- that he was a juvenile delinquent, and Atilla and I brought him off the street and gave him a guitar.
About ten years ago, I met Pat again. He was the master of ceremonies at the Jim Hall Invitational -- a tribute to me produced by the JVC Jazz Festival. He and I played a tune together that night. Several years later, Pat and I did some duet concerts in France. We had barely rehearsed, but I knew a couple of his tunes and he knew a couple of mine, so we just went out and played. We always hit it off musically.
Each time we played after that, we'd try different things. For example, when Pat played with me at the Smithsonian two years ago, we played a freely improvised piece -- we simply looked at each other and started playing. That was very encouraging, so we started talking about trying to get something on record. We eventually booked three days in the studio, and that was it. Some tunes on the album were taken from four concerts we played in Pittsburgh.
What sorts of challenges did you encounter?
Pat and I had to come to terms with how the album was going to be recorded. It took quite a bit of talking to iron out differences in recording philosophy. I much prefer to record live -- warts and all. I like to feel the sound of my instrument and my amp, and feel the sound of the other players, too. To me, studio recording is an unnatural act. Pat, on the other hand, thinks of the recording studio as an instrument. He might edit several takes together into one, or record a take and then fool around with it, punching in here and there to make it perfect. So we compromised. Actually, Pat agreed to do things more or less my way.
Because you use a mic to capture your archtop's acoustic characteristics, we can sometimes hear you sing along with your lines. Did you always do that?
More than I knew. It really came out on "Django," a piece I recorded with Pat on my previous CD, By Arrangement. I guess I've done it all my life, but I hadn't noticed until recently because in the past I didn't mic my guitar -- only the amp. Lately, I've been using a mic to mix in some of my guitar's acoustic tone with the amp sound, and I've become aware of my singing. Sometimes it cracks me up, other times it makes me wince.
In a sense, the singing is a good sign that I'm really playing and not merely running licks. Because guitarists don't have to breathe with a phrase the way horn players do, it's easy to fall into playing the musical equivalent of run-on sentences. Breathing and singing along with my playing helps me avoid that.
Describe the recording process.
In the studio, Pat and I were isolated in separate rooms with a sliding glass door between us. That works okay, but I preferred the live recordings because we set up like we would for any other concert, sitting just a few feet apart. I could see him, hear him, and feel him. I used my usual guitar and amp for both the live and studio dates. But something funny happened with Pat's equipment when we got to Pittsburgh. He had brought this whole truckload of gear, and it wasn't working right. So he used a little Polytone amp that they had at the venue, and he sounded pretty much the same as he always does.
Have you followed Metheny's records over the years?
I'm aware of things he does, but not specific albums. I don't really listen to jazz records. I try to listen to things that will provoke me in different directions -- contemporary classical music, for example.
Did anything about Metheny's playing particularly surprise or impress you?
I know he plays guitar amazingly well and has extraordinary technique, but until we started playing together, I wasn't sure how it would work when we improvised -- the whole generation thing and our different approaches to music. But when we played the free pieces [the album's five improvised tracks], Pat was so tuned into where I was going musically that it seemed like he was inside my brain. Now I know what an incredible musician he is.
Metheny uses a variety of electric and acoustic guitars on the disc -- including a fretless nylon-string and a 42-string Pikasso guitar built by Linda Manzer -- but you relied solely on your D'Aquisto archtop. Weren't you tempted to play other instruments?
Having only one guitar is not necessarily limiting. There are ways to get a variety of sounds from a single instrument. For instance, I frequently adjust my guitar's volume and tone knobs in subtle ways to vary my sound from tune to tune -- even within one tune. Sometimes I'll crank the volume knob not so much to be louder or quieter, but according to how long I want the notes to sound. That changes depending on the tempo and the mood of the music. Also, a club's acoustics change as people in the audience come and go. Basically, I'm always trying to keep the volume and timbre logical for the situation, and working to make the dynamics part of the music. I don't like music to be all loud or all soft because the ear gets bored. Sometimes I change the volume or tone just to keep things interesting.
Besides all the fiddling with the knobs, I use different types of picks to get different sounds. I might use a thin pick to play a sixteenth-note calypso or Latin rhythm, or an up-tempo four-to-the-bar pattern. A heavy pick is good for lyrical melodies because it draws a bigger, rounder tone from the strings.
Do you always play with a pick?
I rarely use my fingers exclusively -- I'm not very good at it. I studied some classical guitar years ago, and more recently, I took a lesson from Mick Goodrick, who gave me all kinds of exercises and drills to develop my right hand. I really like all the melodic possibilities that playing fingerstyle gives you -- the larger leaps and independent voices. I've been able achieve some of those things using a pick and fingers.
The CD features compositions written by you or Metheny, but you also included a couple of jazz evergreens, such as "All the Things You Are" and "Summertime." What's your philosophy on recording standards?
It's fun to keep revisiting these old friends to see what comes out -- especially in a club context. If you give the audience a familiar point of reference, they're more likely to trust you to take them to unfamiliar places. "All the Things You Are" is such a well-constructed tune. The symmetry of the chord progression and the way the melody develops makes it a great tune to improvise on. And in the case of "Summertime," Pat's treatment is unique -- not just a rehash of the "Summertime" most people are used to. He plays a Richie Havens-style sixteenth-note rhythm through the whole tune and changes the harmony around in some beautiful ways. All I had to do was float on top with the melody and it worked.
This album showcases your accompaniment skills. Is comping something you've worked on a lot?
I was very fortunate that early on in my career I played in groups without piano. [Sonny Rollins, Paul Desmond, and Art Farmer are some of the notable bandleaders who employed Hall in their pianoless '60s ensembles.] I was working a lot, and those situations gave me opportunities to work on my comping. One important lesson I learned was that every soloist wants something different -- Art Farmer liked it when I'd anticipate the chords and push him a little. Sonny, on the other hand, made it clear that he wanted me to follow him and not lead. Over time, I learned to listen with those things in mind.
Jim Hall's Electric Alchemy
Hall's primary guitar is a Jim Hall Custom archtop built by James D'Aquisto about ten years ago. "It's similar to a Gibson ES-175," says Hall, "the guitar I played for years before I could afford a D'Aquisto. Jimmy built this guitar with my old Gibson in mind."
The similarity is only skin deep. Though wonderful in its own right, the ES-175 is constructed of plywood, whereas the D'Aquisto boasts a hand-carved solid top and a solid back and sides, and is equipped with a single Guild humbucker.
Hall strings his pride and joy with D'Aquisto flatwound strings, gauged .011-.048 or .012-.052. He replaces the wound G string in either set with a plain .019 or .020 because "the plain string is more responsive to left-hand vibrato."
Hall uses medium, teardrop-shaped D'Aquisto picks, and plays through a 100-watt, solid-state Walter Woods head and 1x12 Harry Kolbe cabinet. "The Walter Woods is incredible," Hall enthuses. "Besides sounding great, it's durable, small, and light -- ideal for traveling." To warm up the amp's clean-as-a-whistle tone, Hall first sends his signal through a Harry Kolbe JP-1 tube preamp, and then into the Woods' effects return, bypassing its preamp altogether. "Solid-state amps give you information," explains Hall, "but nothing personal. The tube preamp adds character to the sound." -- AL