Two months ago, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan released his “Best Jazz Albums of 2009,” and number three on the list was Jim Hall and Bill Frisell’s 2008 release, Hemispheres. It’s two discs worth of thought-provoking yet non-disruptive jazz by two of the genre’s most innovating guitarists. The second disc features a rhythm section consisting of Joey Baron on drums and Scott Colley on bass, but the first disc puts the legendary Hall and his former student Frisell alone in a room together. The result is ten highly improvisatory tracks that run the gamut from “safe at home” to “lost in e-space.” Each bears repeat listening and close attention but also functions well as background music for performing thinking tasks.
Listen, if you please, to the way Hall and Frisell transform Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” into something that does not protest, that reminds me less of Dylan’s angry, vengeful lyrics (And I hope that you die/And your death’ll come soon/I will follow your casket/In the pale afternoon) than of the stoic verses of “The Chess Players” by Ricardo Reis:
Houses were burning, walls were torn down
And coffers plundered;
Women were raped and propped against
The crumbling walls;
Children, pierced by spears, were so much
Blood in the streets…
But the two chess players stayed where they were
Close to the city
And far from its clamor, and kept on playing
Their game of chess.