St. Hill Blues

Andrew! Hill! Rules!Â

Andrew Hill
Blue Note : 1965

AH, piano; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; John Gilmore, tenor sax, bass clarinet; Cecil McBee, bass; Richard Davis, bass (on “Premonition”); Joe Chambers, drums; Nadi Qamar, percussion; Renaud Simmons, conga.

Andrew Hill is one of the great jazz pianists of the past forty years. Though not as celebrated as his Blue Note labelmates Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner — we could easily hang that sorrowful tag “musician’s musician” on Hill — his body of work is no less essential, and easily as influential. Current vanguard pianists such as Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran cite Hill as a singular influence, and both have performed with him; sometime Wilco guitarist Nels Cline is also a fan.

Hill recorded a series of albums for Blue Note in the mid-Sixties that cemented his reputation, at least among those that heard them; 1964’s Point of Departure is probably the central text (and has more or less remained in print for the duration), but others like Smoke Stack, Andrew!, Black Fire, and Judgment! (designer Reid! Miles! dug himself some exclamation points) are also crucial documents, and most of these have been reissued in recent years. Despite this steady stream (among them Pax, also from ’65, just out last month; a Mosaic Selects 3-CD collection compiling Hill’s late Sixties work, plus a planned three-disc solo set from the Seventies), Compulsion, Hill’s free-est, most out-there session of the time, remains stubbornly unavailable on CD. The four tracks were available on an earlier, “complete” Moasic box set on Hill, which is long out of print.

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â??Compulsionâ? is a longer track than we usually like to post â?? 14 minutes. And while the entire piece is stellar, thereâ??s a particular four minute section Iâ??d like to highlight. Itâ??s simply the most thrilling four minutes of Andrew Hillâ??s entire illustrious career.Â

It starts at the 3:00 mark, when Hillâ??s piano reenters the tune and the dark rhumba groove begins. That stuttering Latin feel subtly underpins this entire section, allowing Hill and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard to become increasingly unhinged. Hubbard soars against the beat with an impassioned solo thatâ??s full of rhythmic stabs and melodic shrapnel. Hill slowly turns up the heat on everyone, almost subliminally at first until he begins to unleash a tidal swell of notes. This oceanic rumble is so physical and menacing at first itâ??s hard to believe itâ??s coming from him. Itâ??s as if a whirlpool has suddenly emerged at the middle of the tune, threatening to capsize the other players and suck them into its vortex. Hill plays as if heâ??s limning the void, gleefully. Amazingly, the song doesnâ??t get blown apart, but manages to stay afloat and even on course â??– but just barely. Itâ??s a remarkable passage –â?? the musical equivalent of watching an ocean linear tossed aloft by 100-foot waves.Â

Thereâ??s plenty more excitement to come in the tune, including Hillâ??s double-fisted and crabwise duet with John Gilmore and the songâ??s frenzied full-band coda. But weâ??ll leave those for you to figure out for yourself. [CJC]

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“Premonition” dials down the drama, but I love the way it highlights the open-endedness of Hill’s approach. I think part of the reason he has remained a slippery figure is this exact quality in his music. There is often something unsettlingly unresolved in Hill’s compositions; he asks, he doesn’t answer. This kind of exploration makes for bad background music — it’s not going to get you laid — but rewards attentive listening.

This track also captures for me a lot of what was great about the New Thing: the softening of a strict theme-solos-recap theme format; a willingness to play with texture, unconventional instrumentation, or odd pairings (with some players dropping out for a stretch); side-by-side soloing (trumpet vs. bass vs. bass, for example); and a more elastic sense of time. With some retention of structure and solidity. I also find it stunningly beautiful. Dig that bell.

This music will be released; be ready when it is. In the meantime, buy Time Lines, Hill’s latest, and everything by else by him, at Downtown Music Gallery[DLD]

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For more: There was a wonderful David Adler-penned article on Hill in the April 2006Â Jazz Times; it’s currently accessible at Adler’s site as a PDF.

Category Andrew Hill

7 Responses to St. Hill Blues

  1. Brilliance of the highest order.

  2. March 20, 2007: Compulsion has finally been reissued.

  3. Got the re-issue, it’s really good. Interestingly, I don’t know if I’d call it Hill’s “free-est, most out there” work. There’s a steadiness of beat and clearly delimited solo spaces that are boldly filled, making it quite easy to follow, I’ve found.

  4. I’ll Away’s Remember

    Time and space, limitless, when i think of my mentor, my cousin, and oh yea, my best friend!I remember the first time I saw Andrew, 9 years old. At that time he was engaged to my cousin, (LaVerne).She was also a musician, She was a regular at a club in L.A. My first experience on stage was performing with her. They had just got in from New York. I had to check this guy out for myself. LaVerne was my favorite person in life, so whoever was with her, had to get a pass from me! Well Andrew got good marks from me. They were a great team together. Whenever they made it to L.A., it was like christmas to me. I would sit back sometime’s and watch as Andrew would sit at his piano, he could make that piano come to life! The conversation from the note’s that touched, would take you up to a new realm, close your eye’s, you’d see a masterpiece painted in colors that could not be described, and when the artist was finished, You know that you just watched, heard something so special, so alive that it seems to continue playing in your spirit!
    Andrew Hill is my cousin, but in my heart, he was my brother. A good man, when his wife (La Verne) became ill with cancer, he was truly her champion, he stayed by her side. She wanted for nothing.
    He made sure that she knew that she was loved, and to the last second, she was loved. I have had a great life, it still go’s on everyday.
    When you get the chance to influence someone in a small way to help turn that someone to the right path, you are smiled upon by God. Andrew showed me thing’s in life, that you can not get in all the books in the world.
    I gotta say, Andrew left a great and wonderful part of him, something to help us relax when the world tweeks us out like a 64oz cup of coffee, something to calm us down on that long drive home, even when that person in the car next to you, just flicked you off-hollered out at you about your mama, and he don’t even know her!
    As we grow older, we look a bit more at our past, and sometime ask the question, what did it all mean? Was it real? I had a brother, a great person but sometimes he wore his heart on his sleeve, he was kinda burned out on the day to day ruteen in his life, cast calls, reading for parts on some movie somewhere, so he traveled up north To San Francisco to kick it with Andrew and Laverne.They took him in with open arms, thats the kind of people they were. He had one hell of a time, He said to me, that it was one of the best time’s he had in his life, I was glad that he got that time to kick it with Andrew, in fact i wish that everyone had gotten a chance. My brother James passed away about 6 month’s after that trip. In honor of my brother, Andrew was inspired to write an album, dedicated to the memory of my brother. Back in the day in L.A. before the gun’s, when a young man would fight, useing his hand’s (honor) my brother ran with his crew (the business men), and people who knew him well called him (Rev. Dubop)
    In 1979 Andrew released an album titled From California with Love To: Rev. Dubop.
    When i think of Andrew, i think of a man that loved to share his gift to mankind, a man that loved his art form of jazz, and gave me the chance to express mine.

    I will always remember,

    Dave Evans

  5. Many thanks for sharing the great memories, Dave.

  6. In 1977 I lived in Pacifica CA with Gloria Stevens, who, at the time was in the middle of a rather nasty divorce. I was 20, she was 32 red hair. She just happen to be very good friends of La Verne, and Andrew Hill.
    Although I only had two encounters with them, once at Gloria’s, the other at Andrew house in Daly City, I so distinctly remember this because I was very intrigued with La Verne. I was just getting started in harmonica playing, and the way she encouraged me to go at it, with all my heart, made me feel good. Every since that time I wished I had stayed in contact.
    I will always feel grateful, and I will always remember

    Bob Chartrand

    (If you read this you may email me at with responses)

  7. My favorite jazz pianist is Art Tatum. That man is not entirely human, and he’s got unbelievable range and color.