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Andrew Hill

 1931 - 2007Photo Credit: Jimmy Katz

In Focus


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With his new quintet recording, Time Lines, the innovative and acclaimed pianist/composer Andrew Hill begins his third tenure with Blue Note Records. In addition to his regular working ensemble of tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Greg Tardy, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson, Time Lines reunites Hill with trumpeter Charles Tolliver who twice recorded with him in the 1960s, during his initial stay with Blue Note. Hill refers to Time Lines as his "coming full circle," and just as his music contains layer upon layer, that statement rings true in a number of ways.

Signed by Blue Note’s legendary founder and producer Alfred Lion—who called him "my last great protégé"—Blue Note issued numerous groundbreaking and highly influential albums by Hill between 1963 and 1970. Featuring many of the most provocative, adventurous and important musicians of that incredibly fertile period—including Eric Dolphy, Sam Rivers, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Booker Ervin, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Lee Morgan, John Gilmore, Richard Davis and many others—classic sessions such as Black Fire, Judgment!, Point of Departure, Smokestack, Andrew!!!, Grass Roots, Lift Every Voice and Dance With Death earned Hill a well deserved reputation as a brilliant composer, pianist and bandleader, and one of the most compelling and original figures to emerge during that era.

"I was nourished and supported creatively and economically by Alfred Lion," Hill says. "I left ‘home’ to enter the world after his retirement." Hill returned "home" for a brief stay in 1989 after current Blue Note President Bruce Lundvall and producer Michael Cuscuna had revived the dormant label. He recorded two albums, Eternal Spirit and But Not Farewell, both of which featured Greg Osby, introducing the alto saxophonist to the label for which he continues to record.

Hill refers to Time Lines as his "coming full circle,"The turn of the century saw Hill return to the spotlight with two acclaimed recordings for Palmetto, as well as a "new" Blue Note recording, Passing Ships, after Cuscuna discovered the original tapes of a lost 1969 nonet session in the vaults. (The New York Times quipped "The best jazz album of 2003 was recorded in 1969.") But Hill is officially back "home" again with Time Lines, marking Part 1 of the full circle.

Part 2 is the reconnection with Charles Tolliver. When Cuscuna (producer of the Time Lines sessions) issued a 3-disc set of Hill’s previously unreleased Blue Note sessions on his Mosaic Select label, listening to a session that included the trumpeter prompted the pianist to contact his old cohort. (Tolliver was also featured on Dance With Death) "Charles is primarily a straight-ahead player, but he’s very creative and spontaneous. I wanted to see if the blend would still work." Hill invited him to join the quartet for a gig at New York’s Birdland club as the group was preparing for the new recording. "It reminded me of some of my older groups, where the audience would become heavily involved in the music. The response at Birdland was just like that." Hill re-conceived Time Lines for a quintet and Tolliver has joined the ensemble for the group’s upcoming dates.

"At first I’d conceived Time Lines as a retrospective in a sense. But I couldn’t do that. Instead elements of all of the different genres I’ve embraced came out in this music. It encapsulates lyricism and adventurous evolution in a cohesive way."

So another circle closed as Hill re-connected to the source of those rich exploratory years during his first Blue Note period, and the palpably exciting sense of mutual adventure and discovery that would occur between the musicians and the audience. "If musicians are just trying to be different, but don’t have a synergy with the audience, they have nothing," Hill states, making a testament to the essence of evolution and innovation that have always been at the core of the jazz legacy; and offering a convincing argument against those who claim that artists who push the boundaries play for themselves and not the audience.

Another element of the full circle is found in the two versions of "Malachi," the composition that opens and closes the album. It’s a dedication to the great late bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut, who co-founded and performed with the legendary Art Ensemble of Chicago. Malachi was one of Hill’s earliest collaborators, playing with him in their hometown Chicago between 1957 and 1959. "It was actually written before Malachi passed," Hill says, "but in the evolution of playing it with the group, it became an appropriate dedication." The quintet version that opens the album is beautifully wrought, with percussively delicate piano, fluid and mournful clarinet, and mellow bending trumpet. The closing version is solo piano—resonant, deeply moving and eloquent.

Hill re-connected to the source of those rich exploratory years during his first Blue Note period.  That same type of creativity and evolutionary development is also evident on another pair of tracks that feature two versions of the same composition. Ry Round 1 is a jagged composition in 4/4 time, built on a spare, almost ominous bass ostinato, featuring a percussive chordal piano solo, stinging trumpet and fluid bass clarinet soaring over the dark liquid mist of the rhythm section. Ry Round 2 was recorded one week later, evoking a totally different mood—playful, more deeply grooved and with a jaunty bounce throughout, alternating 5/4 and 4/4 time. This offers a totally different landscape for the soloists, changing not only the aural textures, but the stories they tell. The two versions provide a vividly powerful expression of the spirit of continuous evolution that is the hallmark of the truly visionary artist. Same musicians, same album, plus one week of time passage equal an entirely new creation.

The remaining four pieces display Hill’s full palette of colors and textures. An unusual time signature, in 11/8, gives the title tune its unique flavor. Interweaving and rhythmically varied tenor and trumpet lines, sometimes elongated, sometimes staccato, interface with each other and the piano over a fractured bass ostinato. "Smooth is a rondo, with piano, trumpet and piano repeating and expanding upon the melody," Hill explains. Hill describes the atmospheric, richly-hued ballad Whitsuntide as named for "an old slave expression dating back to the 18th century; a tradition brought from the Caribbean as a celebration around Christmas. It inspired the famous poem Night Before Christmas." For Emilio was commissioned by Chamber Music America as part of its Doris Duke Foundation Initiative. It’s another dedication to an artist who has passed on, Emilio Cruz. "Emilio was a great painter and a Renaissance man. I had many good moments talking with him and was inspired by his work."

"These magic moments, when the rhythms and harmonies extend themselves and jell together and the people become another instrument. These are things that are priceless and can’t be learned; they can only be felt."This brings us to another part of the full circle, as all of Hill’s creative efforts are being forged under the specter of his battle with cancer.

"I found out that I had cancer in July 2004, which was the end of my world as I knew it. It wasn’t a bad world for I had plotted my return and had upward mobility. I recorded Dusk, a CD that brought me numerous awards and allowed me to perform on the concert stage for packed audiences. So the answer to ‘what does your re-signing with Blue Note for the third time mean is,’ even though I am living with a terminal illness I am able to look forward to my work and the future with enthusiasm."

Rather than using his illness as a stimulus to tell new stories and deliver his message while he still has the opportunity, Hill prefers to use it as a positive influence to add a new perspective to his overall vision, and hoping that his efforts "will overlap to inspire younger musicians" all of whom must ultimately face their own mortality. He has already blessed us with a glorious personal legacy of darkly luminescent beauty and powerfully compelling artistry. Like Hill, we should all look forward to his and our future, and appreciate the gifts he has given us and will continue to offer as the most precious and profoundly valuable contributions that they are, beginning with this extraordinary new album.

Courtesy of Blue Note.com

 

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