Dave Holland and Jim Hall. At the Lobero Theatre, Friday, February 16.
Reviewed by Nick Welsh
The beginning of last Saturday’s chamber jazz concert by Dave Holland and Jim Hall, titans of the bass and guitar, respectively, started out bumpy, and the opening number, the Benny Goodman blues riff “Six Flats Unfurnished,” seemed like it might be a sadly accurate description of their playing. Hall’s guitar wasn’t amped quite right — way too muddy — and the two musicians meandered around in their own private Idahos trying unsuccessfully to connect. But eventually they did, and those who stuck around were richly rewarded for their patience.
In terms of their tones, Holland and Hall provided a sweet combination of the earthy and the ethereal, and by the fourth song — a jittery syncopated tribute to percussionist Ed Blackwell, written by Joe Lovano — the two were completing each other’s thoughts and phrases like an old married couple still much in love. One of the most prolifically recorded jazz guitarists alive, Hall never rushed the groove and seemed far more content to imply a phrase rather than state it outright. He shone on standards like “My Funny Valentine” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” playing with a haunting beauty and unpredictable delicacy. Just when you expected him to circle sparely around the point obliquely, he’d sting you with a tumble of tricky octave-laced runs that hit you from at least two directions simultaneously. Holland didn’t hold down the groove so much — which anchored Hall’s tonal digressions — as he provided a center of gravity for the night. His low notes practically throbbed, and on his tribute to Charles Mingus — “Blues for CM” — Holland combined the sort of melodic invention and chunky percussive bite that might have made even Mingus at his crankiest grin. By the second half, the two had definitely found their way, performing extended and intricate bop-flavored syncopations easily, flawlessly, and deliciously. Not everyone bothered staying. But those who did were treated to the rare magic that only old friends can make.