Pianist Andrew Hill's first recording as a leader in six years was particularly notable for co-starring (and challenging) the underrated tenor Clifford Jordan. The quartet set (with bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Ben Riley) has six of Hill's typically challenging and complex inside/outside originals, a perfect outlet for Jordan and the pianist to interact. Stimulating and unusual music that is difficult to classify as anything but "modern jazz."
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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When I first heard Andrew Hill in the 1960's - initially as a sideman and then as the leader on a series of Blue Note records - it was clear that he was very much his own man and was following a route that only he had the imagination to take.
As John Litweiler says in his book, The Freedom Principle "Hill was a piano virtuoso not only of technique but of styles. From moment to moment in his solos you can detect traces of virtually every avant-garde pianist from Art Tatum to Cecil Taylor, often with the quirkiness of Horace Silver or the phrasing of Thelonious Monk. Such extraordinary eclecticism becomes original in the context of Hill's sense of solo organization... He creates mosaics of sound in which his light, even... touch is the flowing element in otherwise discontinuous music."
Now, as in this set, that "eclecticism" has been largely transcended as Hill creates his own microcosms in which there are continuous streams of movement -flowing in, flowing out, intertwining. He remains one of the most fascinating, and subtly surprising, pianists in all of jazz.
Andrew Hill was born in Haiti, grew up in Chicago where he learned the blues, and then went on the road with Dinah Washington. He worked clubs in New York, played at the Lighthouse on the West Coast, went back East and became part of a sizable number of groups, from Kenny Dorham to the Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis-Johnny Griffin combo. In recent years, he has recorded mainly in Europe. Hill's work continues to be what one English critic calls "an object lesson in combining freedom and discipline."
Clifford Jordan has a room-filling sound, so warm and expansive that he doesn't need a microphone. And Rufus Reid is a bassist who also knows the perennial pleasure - for player as well as listener - in making his instrument sound as well as swing.
Drummer Ben Riley, long undersung among critics, is challenged throughout this set by the time-within-time-within-time of Andrew Hill. But Riley was not disconcerted. After all, he played with Thelonious Monk.
In an interview in the American magazine, Modern Drummer. Riley had a lot to say that is pertinent to the kind of jazz drumming that always fits. For instance:
"As a drummer, you have to find out what is best for the people you are working with. Then, you incorporate what you do. Most drummers go into a gig and say, 'Okay, I'm the drummer. Just give me the tempo.' But hey, that's not the whole job. The whole job is to hear what they are doing in that tempo, make the colors, and make the person who's playing happy."
With that in mind, listen again to Ben Riley throughout this set.
Riley also spoke about the drummer who had the biggest influence on his music, Kenny Clarke:
"I loved the way he was not over the top of anyone, no matter who he played with. He was always right underneath and would always build. He uplifted the music without over-powering anyone, and that is what impressed me about him."
Ben Riley uplifts the music, as do Clifford Jordan, Rufus Reid, and Andrew Hill.
The latter has sustained his integrity through all the years, even when a certain amount of yielding might have made his work more commercial. And although he has not been in the jazz news much for quite a while, he is remembered and admired. I hope this record gets him more gigs, including in the United States.
As you can hear in this album, Hill's music keeps on revealing more with each hearing, and it keeps conjuring up images that reach out beyond music. I was thinking of Hill when I read Ben Riley's account of what happened when a young piano student asked trombonist Roswell Rudd if he thought Thelonious Monk would give him a piano lesson.
"He may," said Rudd, "but you would have to be prepared for anything. He might sit down with you at the piano, or he might take you for a walk and point things out to you."
For Monk, music was everywhere in the world, and the world was surely in his music. So too with Andrew Hill.
- Nat Hentoff