MONTREAL — Jim Hall couldn't sleep last Tuesday night.
No, jet lag wasn't the problem. The legendary guitarist was fretting over the first installment of his four-night stint as host of the Montreal Jazz Festival's "Invitation" series. Each year the chosen musician invites collaborators for performances over several evenings.
The 2000 "Invitation" series was split in half. Bassist Dave Holland hosted the first four nights, and after a Holland-Hall duet Tuesday, the guitarist took over.
Hall, 69, could have invited practically anyone. Consider his history — after moving to the West Coast in 1955, the guitarist played in two highly original bands, the Latin-influenced quintet of drummer Chico Hamilton and the chamber-jazz trio of clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre. He then joined sax legend Sonny Rollins in 1961, soon after making the classic recording The Bridge.
After working with Rollins, Hall began a partnership with pianist Bill Evans. Their music sounded like baroque counterpoint combined with improvisation and elegant swing.
"Playing with Bill really solidified my composing style, and to a degree my approach to playing," Hall said.
Recently, Hall recorded with fellow guitarist Pat Metheny on 1999's Jim Hall & Pat Metheny (Telarc), which features the tune "Lookin' Up."
Textures And Conversations
"Textures," on Wednesday at the Monument National Salle Ludger-Duvernay, was the first concert Hall played at the Montreal Fest. Textures is also the title of his 1997 Telarc CD.
"I was really uptight the night before the 'Textures' gig," Hall said. "Since it involved a string orchestra plus a seven-piece brass ensemble, there are many ways in which things can go wrong."
The next night's performance, at the beautiful Monument Theatre, was called "Dialogues," named after Hall's 1995 record of duets, also on Telarc. He opened the show with drummer Terry Clarke and was then joined by bassist Don Thompson for a luscious take on George Gershwin's "Summertime." The bassist stated the familiar melody with clearly punctuated upper-register lines. Hall responded with his immediately recognizable chordal sound, where the dry, clear notes hang in the air and resonate while he plays a solo statement.
But Hall's dialogue with saxophonist Joe Lovano was the high point of the evening. Certainly the tenor man was looking forward to it.
"We both grew up in Cleveland," Lovano said. "Jim was a friend of my dad's, and I always looked at him as the guy who left Cleveland to go play with Ben Webster, Sonny, Bill Evans and everybody. He has such a unique sound, and is one of the most creative voices in jazz."
Hall and Lovano played a duet version of "Skylark," and then were joined by Clarke and Thompson for a number of tunes, including Hall's catchy nod to Rollins, "Say Hello to Calypso."
Hall, who has been known to avoid electronic gadgetry, recently has embraced the technology.
"I wrote 'Say Hello To Calypso' when I worked with Sonny Rollins 600 years ago," Hall said. "It was really about 565 fewer than that. I used to put a plastic collar stay under the strings to get that steel-drum sound. Now I just use a foot pedal. The danger with effects is getting lazy and over-using them. I used to be really against them. Then I began to think that Duke Ellington would use mutes in the trumpets and a lot of different effects to vary the orchestration. Why not use technology to get some of those effects with the guitar?"
Inviting artists to host a series at festivals is a notion that's catching on. Montreal, which had Lovano as host last year, has included this event for years, and next fall's Monterey Jazz Festival in Northern California inaugurates a "featured artist" program, with guitarist Bill Frisell in the chair. Recently saxophonist Joshua Redman was curator for the San Francisco Jazz Festival's spring series.
"It's both a serious challenge and an opportunity for musical freedom," Hall said, referring to the task of playing consecutive nights with different groups. "It makes you draw from different compartments of one's brain, and that's good but tough."
At this writing, Hall was still set to play in duet and quartet settings with pianist Kenny Barron on Friday. The two recorded only once together, on Hall's 1997 Telarc release Panorama.
The guitarist said, "Kenny obviously has a great touch and listens incredibly well. I wish we could record more, but our schedules rarely let that happen."
Hall planned to close his stay at the festival by fronting a quartet featuring alto saxophonist Greg Osby. The two made the highly regarded The Invisible Hand under Osby's name for Blue Note.
"Greg is great to work with," Hall said. "He and I played 'The Wind,' a Russ Freeman tune on my By Arrangement. Greg is a mindbender; he just has a different approach to everything. I had heard his music with some of his older groups, but I didn't know anything about him. One day I heard him on the radio playing a standard and I said, 'I want that guy.'"