What the Critics Say...
"Waves of crescendoing beauty...rare in his combination of naturalness of composition and instant composition...great balance, great execution, great freedom...gutsy music strongly recommended."
"A major talent
a thoughtful improviser, generous leader and imaginative composer. "
" [Hall] proceeds with daring, verve, poise and balls. The compositions are immediate and engrossing. Tight, free, and neatly sidestepping categorization
music on the upward arc and the ride is exhilarating. "
"Sensuous...a subtle, emotional player capable of conveying a lot of feeling with just a few notes."
"Probably the most stylistically postmodern association of theme and music, thoroughly cutting across the casually expected."
"In the purest American downtown style
proceeding from the most advanced jazz and blues
"Devoutly weird music
Globe and Mail
"Aggressively contemporary, sitting on the edge of free music but clearly conceived by a man whose sense of the jazz tradition is strong...Hall has all the marks of an original mind."
"Interesting and intense, never faltering..."
"Hall keeps the balance between the pure flow of sentiments (the melodic line is obviously expressed in his compositions) and tension (he is moving technically on free jazz "standards")...a very sensitive composer, an arranger who masters his material and first of all, a performer who has made me listen to a revelation."
"One of Canada's best kept secrets...a huge writing talent!"
Bombay Mid-Day (India)
"There is nothing shy about Glen Hall's performance...he spells a host of emotions...short sharp bursts of sound, to lyrical, plaintive whisperings...tender and brash in turns. "
"Splendid writing...(Hall) is thinking ahead of the crowd..."
"Hall comes across brilliantly...a reflective soloist, a magical melodic-sound arranger...his own compositions are surely of timeless worth."
the creative muse is at the forefront and its lots of fun."
"Stunning results...one of the most singular ensembles ever assembled...wonderfully elusive, diaphanous sonorities and textures."
Glen Hall's Biography
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THE RENAISSANCE OF A RENAISSANCE MAN: GLEN HALL
By Philip Ehrensaft
Gil Evans, the premier jazz arranger of the post-war era, began three months of commuting from New York to Toronto in late 1984 in order to collaborate with an outstanding young Canadian reed player and composer named Glen Hall.
Although Evans had an emotional attachment to the city of his birth, this would not have motivated him to make such a
major commitment of time and energy. In fact, he turned down a lucrative contract from Stingone of the few rock stars with a sustained and genuine interest in jazzbecause it would have disrupted his collaboration with Hall.
Recognition of a unique mind at work, backed by determined craftsmanship, is what motivated Evans to make the treks to
Toronto. Part and parcel of this uniqueness was Halls training and passion for literature, psychology and communications. His other intellectual hats have a direct bearing on his music, and vice versa. Hall is a late twentieth-century jazz version of the Renaissance man.
The Evans/Hall collaboration resulted in one of the last and best recordings in the arrangers illustrious career, The Mother of the Book. This was Evans powerful endorsement indeed for a new kid on the block.
After that endorsement, the natural trajectory for Hall would have been to join the inflow of talented young musicians from all across North America to the centre of the 1980s jazz universe, New York City. Halls first recording, The Book of the Heart, had already been named as one of the ten best of the year by Cadence magazine, a magazine of reference for serious jazz reviews. That alone would have been a good calling card for entry into the Darwinian New York scene.
But Hall had another precious asset. Evans offered the young Canadian a place of honour in the arrangers ensemble. Their collaboration, however, began on the very same day as the birth of Halls first daughter. It is a measure of Glen Halls character that he turned down this dream offer because his family responsibilities came first.
Retrospectively, Hall sees this conjuncture as a blessing in disguise. Had he gone to the Big Apple, there would have been pressure to fit into the parameters of the New York scene, both mainstream and avant-garde. By staying in what was then the jazz hinterland of Toronto, rather than heading to the Big Apple, Hall had greater latitude to work out his unique music. He can be counted among the key creative spirits who bucked the trend towards increased centralisation of jazz activity in New York. The net result is that some of the most interesting improvised music on the continent is being created in cities like Chicago, San Francisco, and now Toronto.
In order to put the greater latitude of a hinterland musical scene to good use, Hall had to play a leadership and mentoring
role in creating a community of musicians who could tackle his experimental jazz. It required great self-discipline and
energy to stay the course. Hall has both in abundance.
Now, after a decade and a half of quietly defining and redefining his musical vision, this jazz renaissance man is very much back on a larger stage. Leo Records in London has just released his latest CD, The Roswell Incident. The likes of trombonist Ray Anderson, drummer Gerry Hemingway and the Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo joined forces with Hall in a standing room only concert at the 2001 Guelph Jazz Festival. Ranaldo and Hall then joined the Knitting Factorys
house drummer, William Hooker, at the Hallwalls Arts Center, a beehive of avant-garde music, theatre and visual arts that has been carved out of recycled industrial space in Buffalo.
A Portrait of the Artist as Pan-Genre Integrator, Mentor and Organiser
Glen Halls music calls upon multiple genres, both musical and literary, but it is definitively not post-modern pastiche.
This is inside/outside music that continuously leaps from conventional to experimental forms, or stays tantalisingly on
the border. The way Hall constructs these leaps is directly related to the way he has earned most of his living since turning down Evans offer to join the arranger in New York. He teaches communications, psychology and mystic literature at two technical institutes in TorontoHumber and Sheridan Colleges. Thanks to an exceptionally high energy level, Hall has been able to pursue a career as a full-time musician and as a teacher in his original fields of formal training.
Somebody who teaches people how to think clearlyand then get other people to pay attention to what they have to
sayis going to carry this perspective into avant-garde music. Hall provides enough structure and familiar elements so that people dont feel lost. But they are also presented with the unexpected as Hall expands his own horizons. Seeming chaos alternates with order. Clarity is peppered with enough ambiguity and allusions to keep the audience interested.
Avant-garde music must, Hall argues, tell a storyan interesting story that people can follow, and want to follow. Musical conservatives, especially neo-romantic classical composers, typically advance the proposition that music should include a narrative strand. It is not what one would expect from a radical musician/composer whose ambition is to help take free jazz to a new level. Halls music is redolent with surprises and unusual combinations. That is what makes it so interesting.
One has to be a very quick study in order to acquire the real competence in multiple fields that is requisite to telling the innovative musical stories that flow from Halls pen and horns. I did not have to spend much time with Hall before perceiving that he is an exceptionally quick study. When Hall decided to leave graduate school in literature for Bostons Berklee School of Music in 1973, there were big holes in his musical training. After one year at Berklee, his professors advised him that he had little more to learn in terms of formal training. It was time to move into the professional world. Hall packed up his tenor sax, bass clarinet and flutes, and took his professors advice.
A musician whose mind and mind-body coordination permit such fast learning is also a person who can improvise at a
pace way beyond the ordinary. A most indicative element of what Hall is all about is that his main musical model is not
an avant-garde musician. It is the ultimate bebop improviser, Sonny Rollins. Rollins is one of the only people capable of
genuine real-time composition at the furious rate with which bebop is played. Barry Kernfield, editor of the New Grove
Dictionary of Jazz, puts it this way: Imagine trying to imitate his [Beethovens] achievements not at leisure but in a matter of seconds, with the chords changing every measure or half-measure and the measures moving at over 200 beats per minute.
Hall does not, however, want to play like Sonny Rollins, an improbable pursuit in any event. He wants to understand how Rollins thinks and then apply the process to creating his own kind of free jazz.
This rapid-fire capacity to improvise is joined to enthusiasm and grounding in the avant-garde composers who propelled
classical music in entirely new directions. His interest in Edgar Varese, John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen dates back to undergraduate years. I dont know of many other musicians who have played free jazz variations on Stockhausens daunting compositions.
Hall has strong views on the modern composers who he does or does not like, views that have a great deal to do with the
way he plays jazz. Kagel, for example, is somebody he sees as exemplifying overly cerebral strands in post-war
composition, music that uses only the left, logical side of the brain. Hall looks for, and aims to create, music that calls
upon both sides of the brain, and the heart as well. (I cannot resist a respectful disagreement here with Halls harsh evaluation of Mr. Kagels music, which is permeated with a playfulness that comes straight from the heart. Halls general point, however, is well taken; the dryness in a sizeable chunk of post-war composition is about as enjoyable as doing 200 sit-ups.) The net result is Halls rare capacity to employ advanced compositional techniques in jazz improvisations that simultaneously emit a whole lot of punch and bite. The punch and the bite are inseparable from the starting point of his musical journeyAfrican-American gospel music.
In 1958, when Hall was eight years old, he chanced upon a radio program featuring Mahalia Jackson. It was love at first
hearing. He took up the guitar and harmonica at the age of thirteen. Then it was not too long before he was leading a busy life as a teenage blues, rock and country musician in his native Winnipeg. Hall has never lost contact with this starting point, nor his experiences and joy in connecting to the audiences hearts, tapping feet and occasionally flowing tear ducts.
A very important consequence of Halls early musical biography is the creation of experimental music that is profoundly attached to the whole history of jazz and the blues. One of his recent compositions/improvisations is rooted in a blues song written in 1927 by Blind Willie Johnson. I treasure the opportunity I had to hear a respectful introduction of the Johnson theme by Torontos free jazz guitar virtuoso, Nilan Perera, hauntingly played on an acoustic instrument. Hall and Perera then gradually moved into thoroughly out improvisations that, however, always stayed connected to the starting point. And that is an accurate metaphor for Halls music in general.
Another dimension of Halls performance that evening is that he is asmuch a mentor on the bandstand as he is when teaching communications or literature. Until recently, the improv scene in Toronto was mainly the domain of greying baby-boomers. Hall is clearly an inspiration for the burgeoning network of twenty-something improvisers who are renewing the Toronto scene. His new ensemble, redShift, joins senior avant-gardists like himself and Eugene Martinec, Torontos pioneer in improvised electronic music, with the new generation. Also, I have been impressed by the way that Hall sits in with ensembles of younger musicians and takes care not to dominate them.
The deep wells of energy that Hall draws upon are equally applied towards building a community for avant-garde
improvisation in Canadas economic and cultural capital. The most current instance is his role in organising an avant-garde concert series, HearTOgo, which ran parallel to the Toronto Downtown and JVC Jazz Festivals during June of this year.
Where To Next?
Integration of spoken word and musical improvisation has been a prominent component of Halls artistic landscape.
Hallucinations, produced at Torontos Music Gallery in 1997, upped the ante even more.
Hallucinations combined film, video, electronic sound projection, spoken word, visual art (statues, found objects) and a ten-piece musical ensemble. The central elements in the mix were works by the Beat writer, William S. Burroughs. The aural component of this very ambitious project has been preserved in the form of a CD issued by Leo. The appropriate medium, of course, would have been a video, and maybe a 3-D video at that.
Upping what is already an unusually deep ante is precisely what we can expect from Glen Hall. It is going to be a very
The Book of the Heart (InRespect IRJ 009301 H; Koch Jazz KOCH, 1979)
Halls first recording, at age 29, featured four of the strongest players on the New York scene: JoAnne Brackeen (piano), Billy Hart (drums), Cecil McBee (bass), Joshua Breakstone (guitar). Very strong and impressive for a debut recording.
The Mother of the Book (InRespect 39302; Koch Jazz KOCH 3-7816-2, 1985)
One of Gil Evans last recordings. Germanys Jazz Forum termed this CD an absolute masterpiece. It is. Compositions are by Hall and arrangements by Evans. Hall on reeds and Evans on electric piano are accompanied by Torontos NEXUS percussion ensemble and a mix of some of the citys best jazz and classical musicians.
Hallucinations: Music and Words for William S. Burroughs (Leo LR273, 1997)
The fact that Leo, Great Britains premier avant-garde recording company, chose to issue this CD is a statement in itself. It was recorded live at the Music Gallery in Toronto, with Hall and the pioneer avant-garde trombonist Roswell Rudd spearheading a ten-piece orchestra.
The Roswell Incident (Leo LR313, recorded 1998, issued 2001)
A year after the Burroughs show, Rudd called Hall to inform him that he was to perform in Buffalo and would love to do
another recording. Hall gladly drove down to Buffalo to take in the concert and bring Rudd back to Toronto. They went
into the studio with Halls impressive OutSource band: Allan Molnar (vibes), Michael Morse (bass), Michael Occhipinti
(guitar/banjo), Barry Romberg (drums). It is gratifying to see a trend-setting European label pick up on the quality of
Torontos improv scene. Hall and Rudd are in top form, and that is very fine form indeed.
For Performances, the best way to keep abreast is via Halls own Web Site (http://www.glenhall.com/events.html). In
particular, watch for redShift, a new ensemble that includes two guitars, two basses, two percussionists, two turntablists, a MidiAxe, a vocalist, and Hall on woodwinds. Thats a lot of music!