Trombonist/Composer James Hall Weaves Together Diverse Styles and Inspirations To Form the Intricate and Stirring Lattice
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
Lattice follows Hall's acclaimed debut, Soon We Will Not Be Here, in which he and his Thousand Rooms Quartet set the work of contemporary New York City-based poets to Third Stream-inspired music that struck a delicate balance between modern jazz and contemporary classical music. Lattice eschews the vocals of its predecessor and veers in a more recognizably jazz direction, though Hall's richly detailed writing maintains the sophisticated architecture of chamber music without forsaking the passion and propulsion of the best modern jazz.
To achieve those ends, Hall enlisted a skilled band with an elusive chemistry to breathe life into his compositions. In addition to Baum, he's joined by keyboardist Deanna Witkowski (Donny McCaslin), bassist Tom DiCarlo (Claudio Roditi, Sean Jones), and drummer Allan Mednard (Kurt Rosenwinkel, Aaron Parks). On two tracks the band is supplemented by in-demand saxophonist Sharel Cassity (Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis), whose fiery alto adds a new flavor to the often more contemplative styles of Hall and Baum.
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.
Two strands are not enough to make a latticework, however, and as a number of pieces intersect to form a pattern, so Hall's project expanded to encompass other voices and inspirations. He crossed paths with Mednard while both were touring with the retro-pop ensemble Postmodern Jukebox, while DiCarlo was suggested by Baum. Witkowski was introduced to Hall at the release concert for Soon We Will Not Be Here, and her interest in his music was matched by her gifts for interpreting it on both piano and Rhodes.
"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."
A trombonist and composer from Nebraska based in New York City, James Hall is a versatile musician and composer whose projects have spanned jazz, classical, Latin, and popular music. As a composer and bandleader, James was named a finalist in the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Competition, won three ASCAPlus Awards for composition, and was a featured performer/composer at the 2012 Chelsea Music Festival. He has appeared on several recordings with Postmodern Jukebox, with whom he has toured Europe and the United States. His first CD as a composer/bandleader, Soon We Will Not Be Here, was released in October 2013 and featured his Thousand Rooms Quartet. James holds degrees from the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in Wisconsin and Aaron Copland School of Music in New York. His teachers have included Luis Bonilla, Hal Crook, Michael Dease, Nick Keelan, Ed Neumeister, and Fred Sturm.