Tag Archives: andrew hill


Andrew Hill Solo 

Found My Andrew Hill Goodbye From A Now Defunct Website

I consider Andrew Hill’s piano playing to be crabwalk music: it goes forwards and sideways at the same time. There’s something fascinating about this tack; it leads the listener along, but allows for all sorts of tangents. To some degree it made Hill’s stuff seem elliptical – at times gracefully agitated, at times engagingly ponderous.  

Looking back on the gorgeous body of work he made for Blue Note and other labels during his five-decade career (as a teen he gigged with Bird in Detroit), it’s hard not to cast his music as the epitome of freedom swing. Propulsion is at its center, but dissonance and tension are always welcome guests.

Hill’s death last Friday (April 20, 2007) wasn’t a surprise. The 75 year old improviser had been battling cancer for the last few years. His strength gave him enough time to add more important music to his canon; last year’s Time Lines is one of the piercing and poignant discs he’s ever made, and it got noticed. Hill’s status as a valuable elder statesman was underscored by splashy profile coverage in all the jazz mags and the New York Times. What some deemed arcane back in the ‘60s is considered eloquent these days. 

Five By Five: Andrew Hill

The first artists I learned about when initially absorbing jazz were Mingus, Monk, and Miles. Ellington came quickly, Rollins of course. These guys might be the standard toeholds for those testing out the music. But one of the “other” artists that found his way into my heart early on was Andrew Hill. I didn’t know squat about him except that, when it came to his string of Blue Note titles, allure and splendor went hand in hand. His work was richer, and a bit more complex, than several of his fellow pianists. Smokestack, Andrew!, and of course Point of Departure, were all go-to discs for me in the mid-70s. From California With Love, too, now that I think about it.

It was thrilling to watch AH have a career resurgence of sorts back in the early-to-mid aughts. He was still playing with a glorious whimsy that allowed room for lots of poetry to fleck his well-designed writing. He passed in 2oo7, but June 30 is his birthday, so I thought I’d ask a few pals about a Hill tune that they have always been impressed by. As you can see below, there’s a slight consensus regarding the knotty playing that drives his terrific trio date from 1980. Quite understandable (don’t neglect its solo mate, Faces of Hope). Thanks to the participants for taking a sec to respond.

1. Marty Ehrlich,  T.C., Dusk (Palmetto)

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I mean, you do, you try, but in Andrew’s case it was a large “passing ship” to take in. It was an honor to play with him for sure. He let me know in small ways that he didn’t want my improvising to be regular, but instinctive and expressive. You had to use your ears. Over the three or four years he did the Point of Departure Sextet, the compositions melded together in my mind as a sound world. As unique as they could be, at some point they all had a phrase or phrases that was a supplication, something that grabbed the listener from within this floating world of harmony and rhythm.

I hadn’t played with Andrew for a number of years and then he called me to do two gigs with his quintet with Charles Tolliver, John Hebert, and Eric McPherson. Musicians talk all the time about the use of space, but on these gigs it became an intense reality. The less I played in my solos, the richer the music seemed to be – like a slow-paced dance going on below the surface of the music making.

I marveled at the sound Andrew got from the piano, the way he brought out the overtones of a chord, the sense of depth in the sonic field. There was a alot of mystery going on. Maybe you can’t know it until it’s already gone. Happy Birthday, Andrew!

2. Frank Kimbrough: Domani, Shades (Soul Note) 

Recorded July 3 and 4, 1986 in Milano, it features Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, with Rufus Reid on bass, and Ben Riley on drums. The tune is in two sections: 14 bars, then 18 bars, rather than the expected 16 and 16.   It’s taken at a very fast tempo, but the rhythm section changes it up by going into a 12/8 loping feel from time to time.  Clifford’s solo is electrifying, and the slippery time feel makes it all feel very risky indeed.  This album is part quartet and part trio – my favorite trio tune from this date is “Ball Square.”

3. Russ Lossing, Strange Serenade, Strange Serenade (Soul Note) 

Pure heart and soul filtered through a sharp, but playfully restrained intellect.

4. Joe Morris, Compulsion, Compulsion (Blue Note)

Epic Andrew Hill. Great performance by the whole group. There is a beautiful collective independence on this, great dynamic intensity, and also really focused and coherent.

5. John HebertStrange Serenade (Soul Note) 

Does it have to be one track? I love Strange Serenade the whole record, with Alan Silva and Freddie Waits.  You dig?

What Andrew Hill tune do most often go back to? Plop it in “Comments” below.

Ted Panken profiles Andrew Hill. 

Our last “Five By Five” was about Jim Hall. 

Here’s some more essential Andrew Hill at Mosaic.

Here’s Ben Ratliff spinning records with AH in Jersey City.

David Adler has a wonderfully informative profile of Andrew Hill in Jazz Times. 

Top Five Jazz Albums to Play On Rapture Day

Be on the lookout for a dude named Ezekiel grabbing his trumpet and jumping into “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” It’s almost time for the rapture to grab up the true believers. I’ve read where the rickety California millionaire driving the whole thing is a fan of music, both celestial and earthly. Perhaps we can assume his tacit sanctioning of these glorious jazz titles as possible soundtracks to the end-days party.

Ascension, John Coltrane (Impulse!)

The erupting horns, the tumultuous drums, the collective agitation – it won’t be an easy ride to the next world. But those who have lived with Trane’s hectic hosanna for a few decades know that the turbulence is balanced by joy – a gospel shout of a different kind. And that’s a hell of an Amen Corner that Pharoah Sanders sits in.

All Rise, Wynton Marsalis (Sony Classical)

As usual Wynton is documenting the common hardships and simple pleasures that cross our paths from cradle to grave – call it a celebration of life’s unpredictable arc.  Maybe that’s why it would make such a grand parting soundtrack: the string orchestra, jazz big band, and sizable chorus create a whomp sufficient enough to make the last glance over your shoulder have a profound emotional impact.

Goin’ Home, Archie Shepp/Horace Parlan (Steeplechase)

Of course, you don’t need a billowing orchestra to provide your celestial outro music. A simple chat between two pals could be poignant enough to get the job done. This pair’s string of duet records began with this program of church music, and the plush tone of Shepp’s tenor gets a big hug from Parlan’s piano every step of the way.

Visions of the Emerald Beyond, The Mahavishnu Orchestra (Columbia)

It takes a certain mindset to waltz towards that white light. Back in the early ’70s, it seemed the frenzied guitarist was so ready to forsake terra firma, he played a double-neck instrument to get there in half the time. Of course, some would say that gooey fantasias such as “Eternity’s Breath” are full of hot air. When prancing towards oblivion, I’ll take “Cosmic Strut” any day.

Judgement!, Andrew Hill (Blue Note)

The shadows on the cover, the music’s eerie tone, the subtle mystery of the band’s interaction – maybe the Rapture needs to deep-six all those glorious adagios and have its participants meet their maker by slipping away down a dark alley. Hill will hurry them along.

And if the planet doesn’t crack apart by 6 pm tomorrow? Come on back here, we’ve got a song suggestion for that, too.

Hey, Dave Douglas rightly included Messiaen on his Apocalypse playlist