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Guitars Ring With Harmonious Humility, As Youth Meets Age

Published: 2012-04-19
Jim Hall Innocence and experience have almost always found a meeting place in jazz, which by its nature produces an endless tide of youthful prodigies and wise old men. There’s nothing unusual about the exchange of insight across generations, but occasionally you see it happen in real time, as clearly as a light bulb flicking on in the room. That’s the case at the Blue Note this week, where the venerable guitarist Jim Hall has augmented his working trio with a second guitarist, the bright-eyed virtuoso Julian Lage.

Mr. Hall, 81, has been a soft-spoken hero of jazz guitar since the 1950s, casting an influence that can hardly be overstated. His intuitive grace and purpose as an improviser, and his forthright respect for melody, coincide with an unforced fluency. He rarely sounds hemmed in by the limitations of his instrument, but neither does he sound like he’s trying to transcend them. The ennobled naturalism of his approach has earned him many sworn disciples, including a few who have recorded with him, like Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell.

This week’s collaboration feels more casual and less equitable. On its face the early set on Tuesday night resembled any you might have seen recently by Mr. Hall in another New York club.

He finessed “All the Things You Are” in light waltz time, with a delicate prelude; he slouched through some blues, including “Careful,” a ditty made up of 16 bars instead of the customary 12. There was a sumptuous reading of the bossa nova “Beija-Flor,” featuring the bassist Scott Colley, and a rollick through the Sonny Rollins calypso “St. Thomas,” featuring the drummer Joey Baron. At every turn Mr. Hall played beautifully and easefully, no louder than was necessary, filling his solos with spindly accents and thoughtful silences, or using subtly voiced chords to get his message across.

All of which meant that Mr. Lage, 24, came across as an interloper rather than an integral part of the group. He hadn’t played with this rhythm section before and seemed to be figuring out where he fit in. There was something similarly tentative in his deferential courtesy to Mr. Hall, which will surely evolve into a looser familiarity during the run.

But let’s be clear: Mr. Lage sounded almost miraculous whenever he was given a clear lane. A guitarist of extravagant technique, he made each solo feel like an onrushing discovery, reeling off lines and phrases while neatly sidestepping cliché. And for all the self-possession in his playing, it felt tempered by an introspective humility, as if anything else, in Mr. Hall’s presence, would be sacrilege.

The two guitarists paired off alone only fleetingly, during an amiable “My Funny Valentine.” A stand-alone duo might have been nice. But they interacted throughout the set, especially in one regard. During most of Mr. Hall’s solos Mr. Lage watched him absorbedly, even hungrily; something was happening there.


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