Well, I’m going to kick off this column with a few words about one of the most beautiful, hypnotic pieces of jazz ever, a piece that belongs in every jazz fan’s library. (Don’t worry about the ‘beautiful’ adjective, I’m not going to talk about ‘smooth jazz’ aka elevator music, but serious jazz.)
The album is Concierto by Jim Hall. All the songs are excellent but the center piece, Concierto de Aranjuez is a must-hear; music played by great musicians and engineered and arranged to perfection. The musicians on the date are Jim Hall on Guitar (electric and acoustic), Roland Hanna on Piano, Ron Carter on Bass, Steve Gadd on Drums, Chet Baker on Trumpet and Paul Desmond on Alto. If that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice then maybe you’re new to jazz (and this is not a bad place to start!)
The album came out in 1975 on CTI, a label of record producer Creed Taylor, who founded Impulse Records and signed John Coltrane to the label. CTI also recorded Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Gerry Mulligan and others. The songs on Concierto were arranged by Don Sebesky and the engineer was Rudy Van Gelder.
I first heard this cut, which tracks at just over 19 minutes, on KJAZ back when the album was first released and it knocked me out. I had to have this song. I still have the vinyl with the drawing inside of Jim Hall from the New Yorker in my collection. Concierto de Aranjuez was written by Joaquín Rodrigo for classical guitar and orchestra. Prior to Jim Hall’s version it was recorded by Miles Davis on the Sketches of Spain album , arranged by Gil Evans.
Listening to the Music
Jim Hall, on guitar, starts it off by stating the theme using a rich, full warm tone, melodic,almost devoid of treble. Chet Baker’s trumpet enters quietly, with an airy tone that seems to float. At about 1:30 in the recording Paul Desmond, long time veteran of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, tiptoes in and trades lines with Chet, meshing perfectly, understated and perfect- a mini masterpiece.
Then it’s Jim Hall stating the melody again and you begin to notice Roland Hanna, Ron Carter and some very tasteful work by drummer Steve Gadd in the background. Paul Desmond and Chet Baker rejoin, playing off each other perfectly, weaving in and out before Hall plays a few notes and Ron Carter leads us into change of tempo and mood at about 3:38.
Roland Hanna comes in with a vamp on piano and you really have to hear how Jim Hall simply glides into the song step by step as the rhythm section propels it forward. It’s so simple sounding, but so right. It’s not just how the music is played, but how it’s arranged and engineered. Not a misstep anywhere.
Paul Desmond takes a solo with that unmistakable sound, sweet, but not cloying, softly swinging, with superb backing by Carter, Hanna and Gadd who are always present but don’t overwhelm.
Next Chet Baker takes a turn, sounding like Desmond’s counterpart on trumpet with such a great warm tone and melodic sense. Roland Hanna, a versatile pianist, has his say with a bit of Spanish lilt, delicate, but not precious, finally climbing the keyboard where Jim Hall awaits, an almost seamless transition.
Hall restates and plays with the theme and, at one point, you can imagine raindrops falling one by one from his guitar. Then Desmond and Baker perform their dance back and forth until the tempo slows again, with Ron Carter providing some especially tasty bass in the background amid perfect accents by Steve Gadd before Jim Hall takes us to the end.
This is an album that can be played again and again and appreciated for so many reasons that it never gets old. Just listening to the rhythm section, so subtle, but so perfect, can be a treat. Check it out. Feedback? Send an email to:
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