April 22, 2007

Andrew Hill (1931-2007)

Pianist/composer Andrew Hill died on Friday, April 20 after a long battle with cancer. Howard Mandel’s obituary can be found here.

Hill had been enjoying a critical and creative renaissance that began with 1999’s Dusk (Palmetto) and culminated in last year’s Time Lines (Blue Note). Time Lines is one of my favorite records of 2006 and is perhaps one of the best records Andrew Hill ever made.

Hill’s return to Blue Note provided a fitting symmetry to a career that began in Blue Note’s 1960s heyday. Alfred Lion, the founder of Blue Note, considered Hill his last great discovery and believed that Hill was “the new Thelonious Monk.” Accordingly, Lion encouraged Hill to record prolifically, even if most of the sessions were not contemporaneously released. The comparison to Monk is apt, not only for Hill’s angular and percussive pianism, but for Hill’s compositional approach which brought a greater complexity and sophistication to the post-bop idiom. Hill greatly benefited from Blue Note’s generous policy of paid rehearsals, allowing his intricate compositions to be recorded with precision and grace.

Thanks largely to the indefatigable Michael Cuscuna, Hill’s essential Blue Note records from the 1960s are all currently available in nicely remastered and affordable editions. Point of Departure (1964) is rightfully considered the masterpiece of this period, highlighting Hill’s singular compositions performed by a stellar ensemble including Eric Dolphy, Kenny Dorham, Joe Henderson, Richard Davis, and Tony Williams. Recorded two months earlier, Judgment! (1964) is a bit darker and looser, featuring Bobby Hutcherson on vibraphone, Richard Davis, and Elvin Jones. An Andrew Hill album in all but name, Bobby Hutcherson’s Dialogue (1965) extended this collaboration with a larger ensemble including Sam Rivers, Freddie Hubbard, Richard Davis, and Joe Chambers with Hill providing four of the five compositions. Other wonderful records from this period include Andrew!! (1964) and Compulsion!!!!! (1965), both of which feature John Gilmore in rare appearances outside of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. Compulsion!!!!! is probably the most avant-garde-sounding of all of Hill’s records, which I guess accounts for the plethora of exclamation points in the title.

All of Andrew Hill’s recordings are worth checking out and reveal an astoundingly wide range of compositional activity. 1969 was apparently a watershed year for experimentation, with an amazingly successful jazz quartet/string quartet ensemble session (unreleased until 2005 on Mosaic Select 16), a gospel-jazz oratorio (Lift Every Voice) and a nonet session which includes such non-jazz instrumentation as French horn, tuba, and English horn (Passing Ships). Hill also recorded a number of solo piano sessions, some of which have been recently released on Mosaic Select 23 (2006).

Andrew Hill’s music stands up to repeated and obsessive scrutiny, its subtle genius revealed over time. Hill, like Monk, Mingus, and Ellington, wrote ambitious compositions that simultaneously provide for the utmost improvisational freedom for its performers. Boosey & Hawkes has recently announced a publishing arrangement that will only serve to cement Hill’s reputation as one of the great jazz composers.



Sam said...

Excellent posting on Andrew Hill. I continue to find depths of expressiveness and musical delight in all the stuff from the Mosaic box, my favorite sessions being the one with Sam Rivers, and, of course, Gilmore on Andrew!! and Compulsion. I should dig up my old vinyl of From California with Love.

Kreilly said...

Time Lines is a fine Andrew Hill recording but it isn't even in his top ten. Black Fire, Judgment, Point of Departure, Andrew!!!, One for One, Compulsion, Dance with Death, Passing Ships, and Change ae all superior and that's just the 60s BN recordings!