It seems odd to say this, but I felt kind of annoyed when the crowd at the Blue Note applauded at the end of Jim Hall's chorus on his opening number, "My Funny Valentine." Well intentioned as they were, to clap midway through a song was to miss the point of this music: The great guitarist's duo with the no-less-legendary bassist Ron Carter wasn't about two guys taking turns jamming.
The level of interplay was so high, and the two men were so connected to each other, that it seemed barely worth acknowledging the moment when one man's solo stopped and the other's began. When one was taking the spotlight, the other was playing a line of accompaniment so effusive and inventive that it was just as worthy of attention as what was happening in the foreground. That's why the two-man show, "Alone Together, Again," which runs through Sunday, is less a duet than an orchestra of symphonic intricacy consisting of a mere two players who happen to be improvising most of the time.
Mr. Hall has a technique equivalent to that of any classical guitar soloist and an electronics kit that could out-tech any rock 'n' roller, but his music is strictly jazz. In this duet with one of the world's most celebrated bass virtuosos, Mr. Hall and his counterpart stuck to the fundamentals of the music — variations on standard ballads and the blues, plus two "specials." They alternated one behind the other, almost as if the two forms — ballads and blues — were also playing a kind of duet. "Valentine" and another Rodgers and Hart classic, "With a Song in My Heart," interacted with Mr. Carter's "Telephone," Mr. Hall's "Bent Blue," and Oscar Pettiford's "Laverne Walk" (earlier, Mr. Carter also quoted Pettiford's "Swingin' Till the Girls Come Home").
It seemed "Telephone" was so named because it is a musical conversation between the two players; Mr. Hall is dexterous enough to play his own bass lines to his solos, which liberates Mr. Carter to take on other roles and supplement Mr. Hall's playing in ways other than what a bassist is ordinarily expected to do. At times he took on the force and dynamics of a great horn player. "With a Song in My Heart" was rendered in a rocking (in the sense of a cradle, not Louis Jordan) tempo, while "Bent Blue" had Mr. Hall minimizing the electronic effects and coming as close to an acoustic guitar sound as possible. On "Body and Soul," Mr. Hall articulated every note clearly in some parts of the melody and rushed by on others, suggesting rather than stating, while both men seemed to relish the key changes in and out of the bridge, creating something different and special each time they flew by.
Midway through the late set on Wednesday, the duo played a themeless, free-form improvisation, in which Mr. Hall took the lead by improvising a line as Mr. Carter followed closely on his trail like a detective tailing a suspect. They closed with "St. Thomas," the original jazz calypso, which Mr. Hall played with Sonny Rollins during his tenure with the tenor colossus's great quintet of 1962–64. Again, he retained the feel of the melody rather than making a point to hit all the notes, and increased the Caribbean attitude by adjusting his guitar to sound like a steel drum.
"I'm going to have sex with Joe Franklin!" The veteran pop singer Keely Smith prides herself on being as spontaneously outrageous as possible; she spends an inordinate amount of time flirting with the guys in the band and certain gentlemen in the audience, summing up her chances of spending the night with them.
Ms. Smith credits this lack of inhibition to her mother, who announced at age 65 that she would say whatever was on her mind and let the chips fall where they may. In Ms. Smith's act, chips are flying all over the place. There's also the inspiration of her late ex-husband and musical mentor, the legendary Louis Prima, who, as one of the alltime great New Orleans jazzmen, knew the value of call-and-response and constant interaction with one's surroundings. In her own way, Ms. Smith is no less a master of interplay than Ron Carter and Jim Hall. She almost always says something hysterically quotable, though it may be a while before she tops that line.
In the same way Louis Armstrong stopped "mugging" the moment the trumpet touched his lips, Ms. Smith's dirty-old-woman shtick becomes history the second she starts singing. At 75, her voice is in remarkable shape, placing her in the Tony Bennett-Barbara Cook category of singers born in the 1920s and ‘30s who still have virtually all of their chops. Her high notes sound a little strained, but when she stays in a comfortable register, she seems to have lost nothing in the 50 years since she and Prima ruled as Queen and King of Las Vegas.
Ms. Smith's current group, led by musical director and son-in-law Dennis Michaels and featuring the extrovert tenor saxist Jerry Vivino (whose playing is equal parts Sam Butera and Sonny Rollins), is roughly the same size as the original Witnesses, the band that accompanied Prima and Smith in their heyday.
In addition to reprising Louis & Keely specialties like the exuberant blues "Jump, Jive, And Wail" and their imaginative recasting of "That Old Black Magic" in a 6/8 mambo tempo, Ms. Smith also delivered signature songs from her classic solo albums with Nelson Riddle, most notably a medley of the German song "When Day Is Done" and the classic torch tune, "When Your Lover Has Gone," with the string parts played on keyboards by Kenny Ascher. She also put two classic pop hits — Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and the Motown classic "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" — into 4/4 swingtime and injected both with an emotional and musical depth that they've never known before.
On my way out, I ran into Joe Franklin and asked him what he thought of Keely's "challenge." "I'm ready, I'm ready," he said, also quoting Louis Armstrong. "So help me, I'm ready!"