When the subject of Jim Hall's guitar playing comes up, one of the adjectives that you inevitably hear is "lyrical." Hall has enviable chops, but he's never been one to beat listeners over the head with them; the veteran improviser (who has influenced guitarists ranging from Pat Metheny to Garrison Fewell) would rather tell you a meaningful, personal story than try to impress you with his technique. Ballads have long been one of Hall's strong points, which is why he was a logical choice for Concord Jazz's Ballad Essentials series. Released in 2000, this collection spans 1981-1989 and draws on five Concord dates, three as a leader (Circle in 1981, Jim Hall's Three in 1986, and All Across the City in 1989) and two of which are duets (First Edition with pianist George Shearing in 1981 and Live at Village West with acoustic bassist Ron Carter in 1982). Whether he's turning his attention to "I Can't Get Started," "Skylark," "Emily" (one of the Hall/Shearing duets), or Nelson Cavaquinho's "Beija-Flor," this CD offers abundant proof of the guitarist's excellence as a ballad player. Ballad Essentials, however, is far from the last word on Hall's ballad playing; but even if his Concord recordings aren't definitive, they're most certainly rewarding.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson