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Album review: Jim Hall & Bill Frisell's 'Hemispheres'

January 5, 2009 | 11:00 am

Hemispheres_240 There seems to be a perception in modern jazz that free playing must be harsh and grating or at least difficult to absorb on first listen. With a number of inside-out improvisations mixed with respectfully reshuffled standards, this jazz guitar summit between 50-year veteran Jim Hall and Americana-dusted experimentalist Bill Frisell dispels that notion.

The sprawling two-CD package offers a set of home-recorded duo explorations and another with Hall and Frisell backed by a sympathetic rhythm section. The pairing is most striking when the players allow their most unfettered whims room to flower, such as on the 15-minute spacescape, "Migration." Frisell's effects-pedal orchestra forms a hypnotic backdrop for Hall's most atmospheric impulses, while drummer Joey Baron adds a few unexpected rumbles and textures to the quartet's session.

Mostly, this bright, elegant collection sounds like everyone is trying desperately not to wake the neighbors as the two gracefully intertwining guitars lead the way. The results are warmly intimate if somewhat monochromatic, but it's an undeniably appealing color.

-Chris Barton

Jim Hall & Bill Frisell

* * * (three stars)