Jim HALL (guitar) & Red MITCHELL (bass) – Valse Hot: Live at the Sweet Basil 1978 [TrackList follows] – ArtistsShare 0148, 50:00 (10/7/16) ****½:
Unreleased recordings of a memorable 1978 encounter between Jim Hall and Red Mitchell.
I never had the chance to see Red Mitchell play in person. A couple of years after his death in 1992, I found myself standing in his house on the occasion of a house concert, staring at his bass. There it was, a 200-year-old German-made instrument, rather battered and noble-looking. I really wanted to pluck the low string, for unlike any other bass, it was a low C. For a bassist, it was close to the Holy Grail. With Mitchell, one of the giants of the art form, gone, it is rewarding to get a lost recording and to once again hear the most distinctive instrumental voice in jazz played in Mr. Mitchell’s inimitable style, his bass tuned like a cello to C-G-D-A.
The session on document here is a Red Mitchell/ Jim Hall duo performance at the Sweet Basil from back in 1978, a recording of which had previously been issued, a highly sought-after item in the LP days. Other analog tapes surfaced (found in the basement of Mr. Hall), finally making their way into the hands of ArtistShare people, who transferred the tape into high-res (192k) digital sound with some analog treatment and sound adjustment on the way. In fact, the stage image is pretty good, especially for the bass. The clinking of glasses and light chatter add jazz club verisimilitude.
Jazz guitarist Jim Hall is better known than Red Mitchell. (Mitchell is better known in Europe where he resided for 24 years, making hundreds of recordings with local musicians there). Esteemed during his career, Hall’s reputation has endured. Modern masters, such as Scofield, Frisell and Metheny, cite him as an influence. In an interview, Metheny paid his mentor a typical tribute: “the level of finesse and touch that he was able to bring to the table, at just about any tempo, is pretty much unrivaled. And there are things going on around the time of his acclaimed trio recordings with Terry Clarke and Don Thompson that are among the most amazing “guitaristic” feats I have ever heard.”
Velocity was never the point with Hall, but rather voicings, phrasing and communication. His preferred group was the drumless trio, but duos figured in as well, famously with Bill Evans and Ron Carter. As for Red Mitchell, the duo was his forte, and no bass player resorted to this format more often and with better results. Among his best recordings are duets with Roger Kellaway, Joe Pass, Joe Beck, Warne Marsh, Kenny Barron, George Cables and Lee Konitz. My personal favorite is a recording is the 1990 Doggin’ Around, which featured an especially high-spirited Herb Ellis and sports Gary Larsen’s only record cover.
There is lots of stretching out on the six tunes offered here. An unforgettable God Bless the Child runs for 11:33 without losing any emotional engagement. Alone Together is the best place to start as it captures Red at the height of his powers. Every strength and virtue of the jazz bass tradition is represented, beginning with his heartfelt statement of the melody, and continuing through his melodic walking across the measures while the guitarist explores intricate harmonic textures and plays with the time.
The bebop standard Now’s the Time illustrates the keen sense of timing as well as humor that Hall and Mitchell share. The swinging fun continues with Valse Hot, both players messing around with the over-simple structure of the tune, inventing some brilliant substitutions and ironic dialogue. With Stella By Starlight, they have a more sophisticated chart, and after a ragged start surely caused by an intrusive delivery of french fries to a front table, they settle in for high level discussions of the harmonic implications of the tune. On There Is No Greater Love, Mr. Hall pulls off one of his incomprehensible stunts which involves a dazzling chord melody substitutions high up on neck. Red takes it as a challenge and delivers up a super-clever solo, smiling, I’m sure, all the while at his comrade, who responds with some fresh notions.
In this 50-minute set, these musicians never fell back on cliche or sentimentality. They simply played as practitioners of an exacting art form that allows for individuality and rewards friendship. To the jazz fan who believed there could not be a more charming record than Doggin’ Around, here is another deeply satisfying piece of jazz history. For bassists and especially fans of Red Mitchell this is not to be missed.
TrackList: Now’s the Time; Valse Hot; Alone Together: There is No Greater Love; God Bless the Child; Stella By Starlight;