Hall’s second album as a leader, set for release February 9, 2018 from Outside In Music,
beautifully melds trombone and flute, chamber music and jazz, passion and complexity
“James Hall and his band [have] an eclectic, but inviting, voice. Their music is accessible, but weaves in and out of some of the highest realms of Jazz and Classical tradition.”
– Makoto Fujimura, International Arts Movement
A lattice necessarily begins with two pieces crossing, and for Hall that second piece was his now-wife, Kristen, to whom Lattice is dedicated. Their romance, engagement and marriage provided the spark that inspired him to begin writing this music. “I wanted to compose a project for two voices,” Hall explains. “The idea of two voices in close counterpoint seemed like a nice parallel to the love story that was happening in my life at the time. It all came together with the interweaving of melody lines reflecting the interweaving of two lives.”More direct musical inspiration came from a few sources that Hall had long admired. One was legendary trombonist/composer/arranger Bob Brookmeyer’s writing for two voices, exemplified by his work with Stan Getz and Jim Hall. Another was the interplay of bass trombone and flute on Herbie Hancock’s classic album Speak Like a Child. Baum shared Hall’s love for that album, and their bonding over it was key to her signing on for the project.
The scale of Hall’s concerns expanded and intersected as well. While a new love – not to mention wedding planning – can be all consuming, eventually the outside world intrudes. Never has that been more true than in recent years, as a project conceived on an intimate personal scale inevitably took on a broader scope as harsh realities came to light. The injustices brought to light by the Black Lives Matter movement and the divisive aftermath of the 2016 presidential election forced Hall to widen his perspective. Again, Herbie Hancock proved inspirational; Speak Like a Child was released in the politically tumultuous year of 1968, its hopeful call for a more childlike and loving perspective a conscious refutation of the day’s clashing ideologies.“It’s a pretty album produced at an ugly time,” Hall says. “So as the world was sliding into an abyss and I was working on what for me was ‘pretty’ music, I was thinking of Herbie as a precedent.”The lilting melody of “Shoy” opens the album, tipping its hat to another form of interweaving – the hybridization of grapes to create new wine varietals. While living in Germany more than a decade ago, Hall worked on a vineyard that specialized in the Sheurebe grape – the title is a transliterated shortening of the name – which is a cross between Riesling and Silvaner. Cassity’s supple alto kicks off Joe Henderson’s familiar “Black Narcissus,” which floats on Witkowski’s airy Rhodes while being driven by Mednard’s subtly roiling rhythm. The title track is patient about bringing its divergent voices together, finally melding into a hopefully melodious theme at the song’s halfway point. The simmering swing of “Brittle Stitch” muses on the fragility of any relationship and the care and attention they require, while “Gaillardia” does some of that work by hinting at Hall’s wife’s maiden name in the form of a flower.
The elegiac “Traveler” is dedicated to the composer’s great-uncle, whose passion for roaming the world and unconventional pairing with Hall’s great-aunt both offered models to emulate. “Kind Folk” is one of a few gorgeous Kenny Wheeler tunes that entered Hall’s songbook after the late trumpet great served as artist-in-residence during Hall’s time at Lawrence University, while the bluesy “Terrace,” featuring the full-throated moan of Hall’s muted trombone, closes the album with a portrait of his adopted neighborhood in Brooklyn.”A lattice is made up of many intersecting parts,” Hall concludes. “As this project matured, even if I composed a piece thinking about myself and my wife, the lattice grew to incorporate everyone I met, everyone I engaged with. It touches on the question of where I sit in the lattice that is New York City, or on a larger scale, that is America in the 21st century. I take heart in the fact that there can be as many strands and intersections in a lattice as there are people or relationships in my life. Maybe it starts with me and my life or my family, but it doesn’t have to end there.”