Are there any particular guitar solos you’re obsessed with lately?
Here’s one I can’t stop listening to: Jim Hall’s solo on Sonny Rollins’ 1964 recording of “God Bless the Child.”
This may seem like a weird statement, given how much self-indulgent wanking infests this site, but I have a love/hate relationship with guitar solos. (Or more like a hate relationship leavened by occasional stirrings of love.) That’s especially true with singer/songwriter tracks. A good song drags you into its emotional world, and so often it strikes me as emotionally jarring to suspend the drama for a fretwork display. It can be like an ill-timed intermission in a great movie, as if you were watching Citizen Kane or Grand Illusion, and they paused the film two-thirds of the way through to bring out a juggling monkey.
That’s one reason I love this solo so much. Hall just plays beautifully all the way through. He’s like the Loch Ness Monster, undulating continuously just beneath the surface and gently lifting his head above the waterline when his moment comes.
Another is the sheer bravery with which Hall employs silence. Talk about pregnant pauses! It would be fascinating to transcribe only the rhythms of the solo, not even the pitches. The asymmetrical phrases. The late entries. It’s so suspenseful. So poignant. So unpredictable. So frickin’ brilliant.
Equally amazing is liquid blend of chords and melodies. For many players, that’s a binary distinction: Either you’re soloing, or you’re comping. This is just…music.
But the thing that amazes me most of all, I think, is Hall’s mastery of register. Baroque music scholars sometimes refer to a technique known as “compound melody,” best exemplified in the music of — who else? — J.S. Bach. Compound melodies are melodic lines that imply multi-voice counterpoint, even when they’re strictly single notes. A tune might center in one register, then leap high or low, establishing a beachhead in another register before returning to the original one. It then bounces back and forth between the regions, almost as if two tunes were being played simultaneously on adjacent channels, with the listener flicking back and forth between them.
I’m not sure I’ve explained that coherently. But Hall does it.
Jim Hall’s students (including Bill Frisell, whose playing this track so vividly anticipates) report that he kept a sign inside his guitar case that read “Make musical sense.” For many of us, soloing is about practice, practice, practice, and then when the moment comes, we turn off part of our analytical mind and hope that our instincts and muscle memory huck up something acceptable. But I get the sense that Hall, in pursuit of “musical sense,” never turns off his analytical mind. That’s not to say his approach is cold or scientific—he wears his heart on his sleeve here! But he’s always intelligent and thoughtful.
It’s said that improvisation is spontaneous composition. Sure, sometimes. But it’s rarely this spontaneous, or this composerly.
Gotta listen one more time—BRB.
Yeah, it’s still amazing.
So what are your current guitar solo obsessions? Any style. Any skill level. Anything that makes you feel intense things.