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 Hebert, Strange 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.