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Jim Hall and Ron Carter: a jazz duo getting attentive respect from audiences

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Jazz guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ron Carter are living proof that good things come in small packages - or, in this case, pairs. Their recent engagement here attracted attentive, respectful, and silent audiences - a rarity in any jazz room! The two nights I was there, the atmosphere was subdued, but the magic of the musical empathy that went on between Hall and Carter generated a kind of quiet excitement. The strategically placed mirrors on the walls and ceiling of the club made it possible to view the duo from a variety of angles.

There is something special about two musicians playing together. It's a ''strip down'' situation that allows neither one to fake it, gloss over the rough patches, or hide behind the other. And when the two musicians happen to be Jim Hall and Ron Carter, it becomes something much more than just a guitarist accompanied by a bassist. As Hall put it during a chat on his break, ''I like to think of it as a duet.''

Of course the ideal in jazz is that every musician be a superbly sensitive listener. In a large group, however - such as a big band, or even a quintet or sextet, especially where written music is involved - it's not so crucial. If the players are competent readers and reasonably good soloists, the band will sound good. But pared down to two, either it works or it doesn't. Said Hall: ''It's kind of fragile, in a way. When it's good, it gets intense, but a noisy crowd can mess it up.''

At the Village West, there was no noisy crowd to mess up delicately spun versions of such standards as ''Summertime,'' (played as a jazz waltz), ''I Can't Get Started,'' and ''Autumn Leaves.'' Jazz tunes like ''Blue Monk'' and ''Bags Groove,'' which could be ho-hum with just guitar and bass, were reworked with modern chord tensions, giving them an intriguing, oblique sound. But the main feast was the ongoing musical conversation between Hall and Carter.

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