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 centralÂ 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)Â are also crucial documents, and most of these have been reissued in recent years. DespiteÂ this steady stream (among them Pax, also from ’65,Â just out last month;Â a Mosaic Selects 3-CDÂ collection compiling Hill’s late Sixties work, plus a planned three-disc solo set from the Seventies), Compulsion,Â 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”Â 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’sÂ approach.Â I think part of the reason he has remained aÂ 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 —Â 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.Â 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 byÂ him, at Downtown Music Gallery.Â [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.