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  • Product Code: CD-83557
One of the many great things about guitarist Jim Hall is his unparalleled ability to excel in both a straight-ahead jazz context and in a variety of more experimental modes, from harmonically challenging avant-garde jazz to playful adaptations of Caribbean themes and innovative instrumental settings (such as the trio improvisation with bassist Scott Colley and George Mraz featured on this album). Hall's guitar sound is famously round, soft, and gentle, and yet his note choices and compositional strategies can be highly difficult. Down Beat Critics' Choice collects 12 tracks from albums Hall recorded for the Telarc label between 1995 and 2001, and includes some of his most exciting and sophisticated work, as well as a clunker or two. Among the former are his exquisite collaboration with guitarist Mike Stern on "Stern Stuff," which Hall composed in Stern's honor and which is based on a Monk-ish, almost atonal theme and yet features some of Hall's most spirited and sweetly swinging solo playing. The calypso-flavored "Pan-O-Rama," which features pianist Geoff Keezer, is another solid winner, as is the melancholy "Snowbound," a duet with accordionist Gil Goldstein. "Circus Dance" is just a bit too literal in its development of the titular theme, and never really gets off the ground. But the high points outnumber the low ones by a huge margin on this very fine collection. _x000D_ Review by Rick Anderson

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