Like a good marriage, when two musicians achieve a meeting of the minds, a certain harmony occurs, yielding work embodying that happy synchrony. Such is the case with Waltz New. Guitarist Tom Dempsey and bassist Tim Ferguson have been playing together for more than 20 years and this is their fourth album, a tribute to the late Jim Hall (1930-2013). Waltz New presents six of Hall's compositions, plus several standards and Dempsey's lilting "Village Waltz", presented mainly as midtempo mainstream. There is a nifty foray into bop, however, with Hall's "Big Blues", evocative of a '50s coffee house in Greenwich Village, when beatniks reigned and Jack Kerouac might be spied in a corner taking it all in. Eliot Zigmund's drums are a welcome, expressive feature of this number; similarly, his intro to Hall's "Subsequently" is an energetic plus. The rapport between Zigmund and Ferguson, particularly on the many call-and-response riffs, is another welcome contrast of harmony and tempo within the laid-back whole. There are creative ideas throughout. In Hall's "Something Special", for instance, Dempsey and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm play countermelodies in emulation of the guitarist's work with Sonny Rollins.
There are also other delightful sequences of call-and-response peppered throughout the tracks, but the emphasis is on melody more than extravagant leaps into improvisation. Perhaps the most melodic piece of the collection is the Hoagy Carmichael standard "Skylark", done in a lush straightforward rendition. Likewise, the title song is an amiable jazz waltz featuring Frahm's assertive playing. By contrast, Hall's "Careful" and the Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz standard "Alone Together" give the players an opportunity to stretch. The album ends with Ron Carter's whimsical "Receipt Please" (which the bassist first played with Hall on their 1972 live album Alone Together). It's a number embodying the essence of Waltz New in each artist's mastery of his instrument and collective desire to pay homage without slavish recreation.