Augmenting his rhythm section of bassist Richard Davis and drummer Elvin Jones with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, pianist Andrew Hill records an excellent set of subdued but adventurous post-bop with Judgment. Without any horns, the mood of the session is calmer than Black Fire, but Hill's compositions take more risks than before. Close listening reveals how he subverts hard bop structure and brings in rhythmic and harmonic elements from modal jazz and the avant-garde. The harmonic structure on each composition is quite complex, fluctuating between dissonant chords and nimble, melodic improvisations. Naturally, Hill's playing shines in this self-created context, but Hutcherson equals the pianist with his complex, provocative solos and unexpected melodic juxtapositions. Jones shifts the rhythms with style, and his solos are exceptionally musical, as is Davis' fluid bass. The combination of the band's intricate interplay and the stimulating compositions make Judgment another important release from Hill. It may require careful listening, but the results are worth it.
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine (All Music Guide)
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Presumably a substantial number of readers of these notes are already familiar with the name of Andrew Hill and may have heard and bought his initial album as a leader, Black Fire (4151, Stereo ST 84151). Both to those who made his acquaintance through the earlier set and others who may be meeting him here for the first time, these new performances will be a highly original and stimulating experience. The instrumentation gives the present sides a substantially different coloration while retaining, of course, the essence of Hill's individuality both as soloist and as composer.
Hill has been described as an avant-garde musician. In this connection it should be borne in mind that this term is susceptible of great misunderstanding and has a tendency to scare away some potential listeners- especially those who equate avant-gardism with nihilism, or rejection of all previous artistic values.
Winthrop Sargeant, one of the most distinguished music critics in the classical field, once remarked that very little revolutionary music has enjoyed any significant recognition because the composers "write, not for audiences, but for a sort of secret fraternity of his fellows." He deplored the substitution of artifice for inspiration, the use of arbitrary systems of putting notes together without regard for musical meaning, and "a great deal of other pseudomusical activity that seems to have as its aim the demolition of the art and the alienation of the serious musical audience."
Andrew Hill's case is made relevant by another remark of Sargeant's. "In art," he observed, "the only important experiments are the successful ones." I submit that Andrew Hill's are among the most important and successful undertaken in jazz during the past two or three years. He does not write or play simply to draw attention to himself or create a cheap conversation piece; he bases his work on the very substantial and (for his age) extraordinarily mature knowledge he brings to bear on each performance Hill's age at this writing is a few weeks under 27; he was born June 30, 1937, in Port au Prince, Haiti, to William and Hattie Hille (the French spelling was dropped recently for convenience). His brother Robert, also musically inclined, was a good singer and played classical violin. The family came to the United States in 1941 and soon settled in Chicago.
"I started out in music as a boy soprano," Hill recalls, "singing, playing the accordion and tap dancing. I had a little act and made quite a few of the talent shows around town from 1943, when I was six, until I was ten. I won turkeys at two Thanksgiving parties at the Regal Theater. The parties were sponsored by the Chicago Defender, a newspaper that I used to sell on the streets of Chicago.
"In 1950 I learned my first blues changes on the piano from Pat Patrick, the baritone saxophonist, who is now with Olatunji. Three years later I played my first real professional job as a musician, with Paul Williams' rhythm and blues band. At that time I was playing baritone sax as well as piano."
During the next few years the piano gigs brought him into contact with some of the better jazzmen of the 1950s, among them Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Serge Chaloff, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Howard McGhee, and bassists Eddie Calhoun and the late Israel Crosby. He played at many of Joe Segal's jazz sessions with Ira Sullivan and other local men.
As A. B. Spellman reported in his notes for the first album, Andrew came to know Barry Harris during the Chicago years, and Harris became an influence along with Bud Powell, Tatum and Monk. After traveling to New York as Dinah Washington's accompanist, he settled in the Apple in 1961, working for Johnny Hartman and Al Hibbler as well as playing occasional jazz gigs.
Late in 1962 Hill lived in Los Angeles for a while, playing with Roland Kirk's Quartet and working regularly at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. Laverne Gillette, the fine jazz organist who was working at the Red Carpet, became Mrs. Hill and in 1963 Andrew brought her to live in New York.
Alfred Lion became acquainted with Andrew when Joe Henderson was recording the Blue Note album Our Thing (BLP 4152), on which Hill played piano; this led to the now familiar pattern in which a sideman makes a strong impression during a record date and winds up with his own contract as a leader.
Andrew's companions on these sides are men with a similarly deep sense of involvement in the contemporary jazz scene and understanding of his musical direction. "Bobby Hutcherson," he comments, "has a fine individual style and I believe he will be very important on his instrument one day. Richard Davis, I believe, is the most versatile and consistent bass player on the scene today. And of course I'm very fond of Elvin Jones, who is an exceptionally musical drummer."
All of the compositions in this album are Hill's own, as was the case with his first session (Black Fire, BLP 4151). If the following notes include a degree of technical comment on the music, I do not mean to imply that you have to be a musician to understand or appreciate Hill's work. On the contrary, its validity lies in the ease with which a reasonably sensitive ear can find its message. Though this subjective, emotional reaction, in the final analysis, is all that matters in the appreciation of any music, there are always those who, like myself, may be inquisitive as to the processes through which this reaction was achieved.
Siete Ocho is a very intriguing case in point. In it you hear an opening bass figure, a continuation of the vamp taken up by Hutcherson and then Hill, followed by vibes, drums, piano and bass passages. The mood is exotically attractive and the rhythm unusual and elusive. This may be a little mysterious to anyone who does not speak Spanish; as will be clear to those who do, the title means Seven-Eight and it represents the time signature. The melody proper begins a little over a minute from the beginning of the track, with a melodically simple series of notes by Hutcherson:
Though the preliminary figure conveys an impression of waltz bars alternating with bars of 4/4, repeated listening gives a surprisingly natural feeling to the odd 7/8 meter, and the harmonic texture of the composition lends substance both to the exposition of the theme and to the moody quality of the ad lib sequences. The main theme is 20 measures long, with three extra measures the second time around.
Flea Flop, says Andrew, was "named for the first notes of the melody, which seemed to suggest a jumping flea. This is dedicated also to the hotels and motels that jazz sidemen are obliged to stay in, all over the country." The melody is based on a nine-bar construction, played twice, in 4/4. Notice how Hill repeats the main rhythmic accent of the thematic phrase under the vibes solo. The unpredictable melodic contours and rhythmic nuances of Hill's solo, the double stopping by Davis, the shifting accents of Elvin's own passage, give this track a constant air of surprise.
Yokada Yokada is a title similar in meaning to the old song Yakety Yak; in other words, as Andrew says, it refers to "Senseless dialog between people." The main phrase consists of a series of dissonances between piano and vibes, with Hill playing quarter-note accents and Hutcherson vibrating against them. The tricky element here is the use of bars 8, 9 and 10 for a drum interlude-an unlikely choice of position for a break in what is, structurally at least if not in mood, a 12-bar B Flat blues. Because it is basically the simplest of the six tracks in terms of form, this is the easiest one to follow at first hearing; it is also the only one with a deliberate (and most effective) touch of humor.
Alfred was, as you might suspect, dedicated to Alfred Lion, "out of recognition for Alfred's natural understanding of jazz in general, and because of the rapport that was established in the interpretation of my tunes." The beauty of this theme lies in its intricate weaving of melody and harmony. Notice how delicately the opening mood is sustained through the playing of a six-bar statement, in B Flat Minor, following by a repetition of the first four bars a half tone higher, and concluding with a repeat in the original key. "My playing," says Hill, "is usually based on playing around the melody, with harmonic connotations." The lyrically gentle quality of his work is heard to fullest advantage in this track.
Judgment, based on a ten-bar statement (extended the second time), was inspired by a poem written by Laverne, Andrew's wife. The message of the poem, in essence, is that of John VIII, 7: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone..." The theme is built on a ten-bar base and has a more syncopated nature than has been customary among those of Hill's works that have been heard to date. The lightness of touch in Hill's work, and the superb empathy with Elvin Jones, is especially striking during the piano solo.
Finally there is Reconciliation, of which Andrew remarks: "I was thinking of the adjustment every musician has to make to achieve unity and harmony with the rest of the group." The theme is played three times-first in its basic nine-bar pattern, then in 2 bars, then again in nine-before Richard Davis takes over for a characteristically clean, brisk and vital solo. Hutcherson and Elvin are no less impressive in the continuity of mood established individually and collectively. Notice the surprise ending, in which the very last note of the theme is unexpectedly omitted.
Let me emphasize again that the above comments are merely a guidepost to enable you to follow the music. Though all music has a scientific basis, the procedures involved either in creating it or listening to it can never be reduced to the mechanical level of a numbers game. What is important about Andrew Hill is not whether he writes in 4/4 or 7/8, not whether his tunes run eight bars or nine or twelve, but rather the thoroughly effective ends he achieves through these often unusual means. I believe that if Mr. Sargeant were to listen closely to this album he would agree that Hill can be numbered among the exceptions to his rule: his are among the experiment that have succeeded.