Bill Evans Jim Hall "Undercurrent" Equals Sublime Music Making

Sublime music making of the highest order despite the "shock value" cover (Toni Frisell's 1947 "Weeki Watchee spring"), the collaborations between pianist Bill Evans and guitarist Jim Hall, who at 82 is still performing, produced two albums of enduring beauty and quiet grace. The second was Intermodulation issued by Verve in 1966.

These are improvisations of almost cosmic order as the two dance with daring spontaneity along the familiar melodic lines of "My Funny Valentine," "I Hear a Rhapsody", (and familiar at least to MJQ fans "Romaine" [written by Hall and spelled incorrectly here minus the "e"] and 'Skating in Central Park") and a few others.

This is a short, six tune album but the depth of the thinking and playing is such that you'll leave satisfied each listen.

Listen to how the two exit "My Funny Valentine". It sounds as if the same musician was simultaneously playing both instruments, so in tune were Evans and Hall with each other's musical ideas.

PIty poor engineer Bill Schwartau (he also engineered the superb sounding first Peter, Paul and Mary album among many others), who had to deal with the ultra-dynamic piano and the soft spoken guitar—no "do overs" allowed I bet.

Unfortunately there are some instances of over modulation "crackling" distortion that sounds like mistracking and some tape hiss, which according to the liner notes is on "the original master tapes." However, I seriously doubt this was cut from the master tapes. It sounds like at least a second generation tape compared to original pressings.

The piano's attack is dulled and the notes lack fully expressed textures and harmonics. Hall's guitar attack sounds softened, dulled and lacking in the air around the notes so obvious on the original. When even damps the sounding board on the original you can hear the resonance stop dead. It's not so obvious on the reissue.

Schwartau chose to closely mike the piano, spreading the keyboard across the soundstage while sensibly confining the guitar to the center. The result is an unrealistic presentation but one that makes easy "watching" Evans' hands glide across the keys. The sense of "stereo" is muted on the reissue compared to the original.

I have two original "1A" pressings: one processed by Columbia with the familiar Columbia matrix stamped numbers and one with hand scribed numbers. The two sound sonically very similar but neither are great examples of '60s pressing art. One shows signs of being pressed from an overheated "burnt biscuit" and of course the distortion is in the original tape too.

So, sonically while the original is far superior to this reissue, even that is not a sonic treasure. It's a musical treasure though, and for that reason highly recommended though if you can find a clean, quiet original, it's preferable to this (good luck finding one!). If you don't buy this because of the sound you're nothing but a...a.....audiophile.

I see that Mobile Fidelity has "TBA" plans to reissue this on its silver series, meaning they are probably using this same tape. It will sell for less so perhaps it will be worth the wait if just for the lower price. Still, I'm glad Pure Pleasure reissued this. By the way, read the "annotation" at your own risk and if you do have a vomit bag handy.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Paul Boudreau's picture

Jim Hall is one of my favorite musicians, of any musical genre. This afternoon I listened to an original mono copy of "Stan Getz - Big Band Bossa Nova" (Verve, recorded in 1962) that I recently bought on eBay (NM my arse!).  A nice record, regardless, and Jim Hall is playing nylon-string guitar on it.  A surprise to me.

I think I have a copy of the LP in question here with a different cover.  Might be a Japanese reissue but it's packed away (ugh) so I can't go look.

Michael Fremer's picture

Arrangements by the late Gary McFarland. My mothers' decorator's daughter was married to him. Very talented arranger. Speakers Corner did a nice stereo reissue.

That's when I realized that my parents were very foolish people. I was in high school or maybe first year college. I knew who McFarland was. My mother was talking about her decorator and said "poor xxxxx her daugher married some struggling musician. One eye points one way, one the other, what an 'imglick' (Yiddish for 'bad luck')" . 

I said "what's his name?" "She said "He's not even Jewish. Some Irish name." I said "Find out his name please." 

So she did and a few days later she said "I asked xxxx her son in law's name. It's Gary McFarland."

I showed her the album cover but that didn't change her opinion of the "imglick". 

Paul Boudreau's picture

Peter Gabriel wrote a terrific song years ago called "Not One Of Us."  Apropos to your comments.

brucej4's picture

The correct title is "Undercurrent."

Michael Fremer's picture

Sorry about that!

Paul Boudreau's picture

Music is nothing to so many people.  I wonder why that is?

Mori Shima's picture

The session master has the earth shaking rumble of the studio ambience. But it doesn't seem the new vinyl has it in the groove. A shame.

floweringtoilet's picture

This was the album playing when my son was born. When my daughter was born we played Intermodulation. Coincidentally, she was born four years after my son, the same amount of time that lapsed between the two releases.

We listened on CD...forgive me Michael, but the hospital was not receptive to the idea of me bringing in my turntable.

floweringtoilet's picture

Ack...duplicate post. I will add I own several versions of this album. Sadly my original pressing is not in great shape. My other vinyl copy is, I suspect, a dreaded Scorpio pressing. I also own the original Blue Note CD issue with rearranged order, and a Japanese replica LP CD with bonus tracks at the end. None sound great, but I agree the music is sublime...I feel very badly for anyone who passes on this because it's not reference quality.

Martin's picture

a couple of years.
I decided it was time I picked up a copy of this, your review made me go for an original. Neither the Pure Pleasure nor the recent MoFi.