Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Review: Andrew Hill - Andrew

Andrew Hill in the 1960's forged a strong relationship with Blue Note head Alfred Lion that lead to the pianist creating and recording some of the finest avant-garde post-bop jazz of the period. As enjoyably cerebral and challenging as his work is however, it was (and sometimes remains) clearly difficult music to market, and of course to sell. Which can really be the only reason why this most intense and resolutely uncommercial of artists appears on the front cover in glorious smiling teen pop-idol soft-focus. Indeed, if ever there was to be a jazz pin-up to rival Chet Baker from this time, then this is the photo that would do it.

The ubiquitous Blue Note exclamation marks too make their return, complete with oddly unnecessary subtitling, meaning we get a title that reads bizarrely like a lounge singers churned out bland covers album. Don't be fooled though, 'Andrew!!! The Music Of Andrew Hill' is one of the man’s very best - and also, with terrible irony, one of his very hardest to find.

Backed by a team of familiar stars and Hill collaborators, we are treated to an unusual piano, sax, vibraphone, bass and drums line-up. Rhythm is superbly handled by Hill regular Richard Davis on bass and Blue Note favourite Joe Chambers on drums, while Hill lays down his tightly knit complex piano lines with rising star Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes on top. And yet despite this, the star saxophonist guesting here is what will grab many jazz fans attentions.

John Gilmore held one of the strongest most distinct voices on the tenor saxophone, that had always led many critics to compare him favourably with John Coltrane (lesser known of course is that Coltrane had in the late fifties actually studied under Gilmore), but unlike Coltrane, Gilmore had never actually been particularly bothered about becoming a leader or star in his own right. Happy to maintain a unique position in Sun Ra’s Arkestra as his right hand man, and always given highly interesting music to play, Gilmore was rarely recorded playing with anyone else, and many were perplexed at his extreme loyalty to Ra. His appearance here with Hill then is most noteworthy, before you’ve even heard a single minute. Luckily then, his playing from the first note is nothing short of exemplary.

Together this awesome band storm their way through six addictively hypnotic Hill originals full of his trademark complexities and flourishes, that though enthralling are probably among his least easily accessible at first listen. It's this same energetic restlessness however that creates the real success in the music here too. Yes, it is complicated densely woven tapestry, and so obviously fails as easy background dinner music, but all brought together it creates an eminently listenable experience all its own that draws the listener in and doesn't let up for a single moment.

One of Hills very best recordings, it puzzlingly remains one of his most neglected, currently existing solely on Blue Note's valuable yet undersold limited Connessieur label (as opposed to the much wider Michael Cuscuna or Rudy Van Gelder reissue programs). As such, it comes wholeheartedly and fully recommended - just be prepared to pay that little bit extra. But don't worry, sitting up there with career high Point Of Departure’ it's 100% worth the cost.


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