'Free jazz' has always been a misleading term ó all jazz is about expressive freedom no matter what form it takes. By any definition, guitarist Jim Hallís series of duets with five bassists is free jazz indeed. Some of the pieces are free improvisations: 'Abstract 1-4' range from the austere, almost Webern-like 'Abstract 2' to the Bartók-like 'Abstract 3,' both with bassist Scott Colley and George Mraz.
But the albumís real excitement lies in the way Hall ever so quietly but ever so deliberately pushes warhorse standards to their limits. He supports Colleyís statement of 'Bésame Mucho' with down-home folk-guitar chords, but their improvisations are some of the albumís most rhythmically elliptical. He and Charlie Haden are contrasting but perfectly matched lyrical partners on 'Donít Explain'; and on 'All the Things You Are,' his counterpoint with Mraz is especially close.
The fleet-fingered Dave Holland is the bassist who functions most nearly as an equal to the guitar; heís heard on the Hall originals 'End the Beguine' and 'Sam Jones.' Another Hall original, 'Bent Blue,' provides the meeting ground for the thick-toned walking of Christian McBride. The seemingly effortless way in which Hall works with bassists of such different conceptions, sounds, and feel for time is a wonder. This brilliant album is proof that categories like 'traditional' and 'avant-garde' are irrelevant when the music is made by those who truly understand freedom.