January 16, 2010

Playlist 1-16-10

* Holborne: Pavans & Galliards 1599 (Guildhall Waits/Consort of Musicke) (L’Oiseau-Lyre LP)
* Morley, et al.: Englische Virginalmusik um 1600 (Leonhardt) (Telefunken LP)
* Die Barocklaute I (Dombois) (ABC/Seon LP)
* Geminiani: Cello Sonatas, Op.5 (ter Linden/Mortensen, et al.) (Brilliant Classics CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen, et al.) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* J.C. Bach: Sinfonias Op.18, Nos.3 & 5, etc. (Little Orchestra of London/Jones) (Nonesuch LP)
* Schoenberg: String Quartets (Arditti/Upshaw) (d.1) (Montaigne/Naïve 2CD)
* Andrew Hill: The Complete Blue Note Sessions (1963-1966) (d.5-10) (Mosaic 10LP)
* Andrew Hill: Mosaic Select 16 (selections) (Mosaic 3CD)
* Andrew Hill: Grass Roots (Blue Note CD)
* Andrew Hill: Dance of Death (Blue Note CD)
* Sun Ra: J.P. Widney Jr. High School, Los Angeles 6-12-71 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: Universe in Blue (Saturn LP>CDR)
* The Beatles: Abbey Road (2009 remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (2001 remaster) (Apple/EMI 2CD)
* Elton John: Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy (MCA/Universal SACD)
* Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left (Island/Universal CD)
* Nick Drake: Pink Moon (Island/Universal CD)
* Nick Drake: Bryter Later (Island/Universal CD)
* Steely Dan: A Decade of Steely Dan (MCA Ultimate Master Disc CD)
* Grateful Dead: Cape Cod Coliseum, South Yarmouth 10-27-79 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Cape Cod Coliseum, South Yarmouth 10-28-79 (SBD 2CDR)
* Neil Young: On the Beach (Reprise DVD-A)
* Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Mercury 2CD)
* Guided By Voices: Forever Since Breakfast (Matador CD)
* Guided By Voices: Devil Between My Toes (Scat LP)
* Steven Malkmus: Real Emotional Trash (Matador CD)
* Radiohead: Kid A (Capitol CD)
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)


Mosaic’s ten-LP box set of Andrew Hill’s Blue Note recordings is such a massive object of awe-inspiring beauty that I can hardly bring myself pull it off the shelf to play it. Of course, all this stuff eventually all came out on individual CDs over the years and they are, of course, way more convenient for casual listening. But, wow, these 200g all-analog LPs really do sound amazing! I’ve made my way through the entire thing over the past two weeks and listening to Hill’s development chronologically has given me a whole new appreciation for his unique genius – and Rudy Van Gelder’s alchemical recording technique. For example, the two double-basses on the December 1963 Smoke Stack session have always sounded indistinct on CD, making for a muddled sound quality that has made this album hard for me to appreciate. But on Mosaic’s vinyl, the two basses are not only clearly and separately audible; they fit in perfectly with the drums and piano to reveal the subtle inflections of Hill’s extraordinary set of compositions. Truly stunning.

In a broad sense, Hill’s music moves from post-bop to “avant garde” in the period covered in the box, but none of this music fits comfortably into any particular sub-genre and, for that matter, Hill’s ambitions lie way beyond the freighted and derogatory term “jazz.” In fact, Hill had as a young man studied with the esteemed German composer/theorist, Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), and his compositions are multi-faceted and abstract, never resorting to simple head-solo-head constructions; his harmonic sensibility teasingly hovers between “in” and “out,” tonal and (never quite) atonal yet still maintains forward momentum, tension and resolution. Hill’s compositions are so compelling that alternate takes are just as rewarding as the masters! The music is never obvious, it never does quite what you would expect a “jazz combo” to do and it is sometimes dense and difficult to immediately grasp as a whole -- no doubt making it supremely difficult to play. This makes for some ragged ensembles at times, despite a roster of consistently stellar sidemen, including Sun Ra’s own John Gilmore on two particularly hot sessions. Relentlessly self-critical, Hill refused to release huge swathes of what was recorded for Blue Note, feeling that his conception was not being fully realized by the musicians. It is a measure of Alfred Lion’s devotion that he continued to record Hill’s music at a financial loss -- and it took the equally fanatical Michael Cuscuna to finally bring this intriguing music to the light of day. Bless them both! Despite any imperfections in execution, the musicians are clearly inspired by and dedicated to Hill’s work resulting in near-perfect albums such as Judgment (1964) and Point of Departure (1965).

Hill continued to record for Blue Note from 1967 to 1970, and this music is scattered across several different CDs and I decided to continue the chronological survey. In 2005, Mosaic Select 16 gathered together all the remaining material previously unreleased, including two gorgeous sessions with string quartet and a couple of adventurous sessions where Hill plays organ and harpsichord (!). 1968’s Grass Roots might at first glance appear to be an attempt to cash in with a jazz-funk approach, but again Hill undermines expectations with intricate structures and asymmetrical rhythms, making for a challenging yet loosely danceable record. (The 2000 Blue Note CD appends a tentative earlier session which attempts some of these compositions with a more straight-ahead rhythm section consisting of Reggie Workman on bass and Idris Muhammad on drums.) Recorded in the fall of 1968, Dance of Death marks a return of sorts to Hill’s original angular, swinging style, driven by the vivacious Billy Higgins on drums and featuring a young Joe Farrell on tenor and soprano sax. I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of Hill’s Blue Note recordings this coming week, including the flawed but crucial nonet session recorded in November 1969 and released as Passing Ships in 2003 -- as well as the quirky gospel-choir experiment, Lift Every Voice (1970). Hill abandoned the jazz scene altogether to earn a Ph.D. from Colgate University, later teaching and performing solo piano recitals, only occasionally making records for such labels as Freedom, Soul Note, Steeplechase and Palmetto. Hill returned to Blue Note for a reunion with vibist Bobby Hutcherson on 1989’s Eternal Spirit and again to record a poignantly brilliant final album, Time Lines, in 2006. Andrew Hill, aged 76, died of lung cancer on April 20, 2007.


Sam said...

Some overlap! I had actually pulled out disc 7 (the Sam Rivers session) from the Andrew Hill box set earlier in the week. You've always been a great proponent of Hill, and your praise is apt and highly justified.

Love the Nono retrospective stuff. I'll have to dig up some Schoenberg string quartet music sometime soon.

Elton John? I just can't go there. You've got bigger ears than I do! :)

Here's my playlist and reading log for last week:

Playlist 2010-01-18

*Luigi Nono: Retrospective, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 2005-04 (BBC), disc 2 (CDR)
*Muhal Richard Abrams: Vision Towards Essence
*AMM: 1970-03-02 London (CDR)
*Anthony Braxton Standards Quartet: 2003-02-22, Bergamo, Italy (CDR)
*Anthony Braxton Diamond Curtain Wall Trio: 2008-07-02 Tivoli (CDR)
*Rodger Coleman: Unfinished Sketches
*Billy Fox's Blackbirds & Bullets: Dulces
*Andrew Hill: The Complete Blue Note Andrew Hill Sessions (1963-66) disc 7
*Charles Mingus: Charles 'Baron' Mingus, West Coast, 1945-49
*New Loft: Again With This 2010-01-06
*Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Eleventh Hour
*Evan Parker (quartet w/Dresser, Hemingway, Robertson): 2009-10-04 2nd set, the Stone, NYC (CDR)
*Irene Schweizer/Roger Turner Duo: 2009-05-07 Bern (CDR)
*Sun Ra: 1977-04-29 Empty Foxhole, Philadelphia (CDR)
*Sun Ra: Detroit Jazz Center, disc 7 (1980-12-27) (CDR)
*Cecil Taylor & Tony Oxley: 2004-08-28 Saalfelden, Austria (CDR)
*Henry Threadgill ZOOID: 2007-05-17 Jazz Gallery NYC (CDR)
*Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
*Beatles: The Beatles (2009 stereo remaster) disc 2
*Big Star: Third/Sister Lovers
*Bob Dylan: Love and Theft
*Grateful Dead: 1977-06-08 Winterland (CDR)
*Grateful Dead: 1977-06-09 Winterland (CDR)
*High Llamas: Gideon Gaye
*High Llamas: Can Cladders
*Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou Dahomey: Echos Hypnotiques, Vol. 2
*Rufus: Ask Rufus (LP, sides 1 & 2)
*Hank Williams: The Original Singles Collection . . . Plus, disc 1

Reading log 2010-01-18

*Kirby, Jack. Jack Kirby's new Gods (started)
*Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet (Oxford ed., ed. Jill Levenson) (started)
*Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet (Arden ed., 2nd series, ed. Brian Gibbons) (finished)
*A New Literary History of America (ed. Greil Marcus & Werner Sollors) (in progress)
*Larson, Gary. The Complete Far Side (in progress)
*Musil, Robert. Man Without Qualities (in progress)

Rodger Coleman said...

Re: Elton John. Heh. Well, first of all, those albums are indelibly imprinted on my brain from childhood and its sometimes fun to hear it again. What's striking is how, um, perverse that music is (the lyrics anyway)and how I knew every word when I was a kid and had no idea what any of it really meant! Ha! Ha!

So you've been listening to Animal Collective pretty steadily. Have you made up your mind. I listened to some samples, but it was hard to tell...

Rodger Coleman said...

Oh, and by the way, I've taken to hiding a big old piece of stinky cheese (e.g. Elton John) in my playlist each week -- just for you! ;-)

Sam said...

Hmmm---for me, the jury is still out on Animal Collective. I have many conflicted feelings and opinions about this music, and I think that's probably good (that conflict), but it's hard to articulate. Their overall sound is really intriguing, even though there's a sheen, maybe a lack of old-fashioned bass? that can be off-putting. And while the pieces have melody, and are presented in the context of electronic pop, the melodies aren't "catchy" in the way I expect pop music to deliver. Then, after writing that, I think, well, it's just me, my ears aren't tuned for this yet (or ever)--and then I think I probably have no business writing about this at all. On the flip side, I am a listener and do have a right to express an opinion, however ill-informed or prejudicial, right? There's something about the vocals that can tend toward the annoying, a whiny smugness that wants to exploit the legacy of Brian Wilson but doesn't have the vocal chops or melodic dexterity to pull it off. And yet, I do find myself going back and re-listening, so there's a pull there--the sound, as I said, is intriguing. I like the concepts of their sound sculptures. And over the holidays my brother played me some live stuff that was amazing. So, we'll see. Part of the problem may just be that I haven't chosen to take the time to devote to extended close listening over a period of weeks. Does the fact that I haven't made that effort mean that they're really not as interesting as they should be, or is it all my fault? It's a hard nut to crack, for me, for some reason. It's not like I feel I should like them, or have to, it's more that they are compelling in a way I can't articulate, while I find it pretty easy to say why I am put off by them. Does this make any sense?