Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Andrew Hill 1931-2007...

A late posting on a sad subject – but I have been laid up with a chest infection that sideswiped me at the end of last week... just about coming round now...

As jazz gets older – whatever arbitrary birthdate or more realistically timeframe where the music coalesced and evolved into an approximation of what we could understand as 'jazz' one considers, approaching a hundred years, whichever way you slice it – mortality takes over and ever-increasingly adds to the ranks of the departed. So to the sad news that Andrew Hill died last week after battling with cancer for some time. Condolences to his family and friends – and a small requiem. Here are two tracks from his 1964 album – fittingly called 'Andrew!!!' and the exclamation marks are deserved in spades. Added value to this album is the presence of John Gilmore... First: 'Le Serpent Qui Danse.' A dancing, serpentine melody indeed, with perhaps a nod at the more clenched convolutions of Monk. Hill ripples out some single note lines over spartan left hand, becoming more two handed towards the end in textural contrast – bop twisted sideways as he never quite goes where you think he is heading for. Hutchinson follows, closely shadowed by the piano, his lines seeming a fitting extension of the leader's vision. Chambers and Davis superb throughout – the drummer letting go an almighty joyful crash towards the end of the vibes solo. Gilmore – worried phrases then sudden dives and swoops into a longer pattern. His tone similar to Coltrane – on whom he had some influence:

'Gilmore...[was] a gifted saxophonist who gave John Coltrane lessons and was an important but still undervalued influence on the generation of saxophonists who emerged in the 1960s avant-garde...' (From here...).

The drummer next, commencing on a shimmer or cymbals. Hill returns, developing quickly into more chordal strategies, thickening his line. Return of ensemble for the theme and a short piano coda.

My second selection is 'Symmetry.' Hill takes the first solo – expansive and twisting into unusual places again. Knotty stuff... Chambers up next as Davis and spartan piano back his brief but sparkling solo. Hutchinson moves in for his take on expanded bebop then Gilmore – brusque choppy phrases. Noting that comparison with Coltrane again, Gilmore is less 'sheets of sound' than 'shards of sound,' allowing more space...

John Fordham wrote (here...):
'But being many-layered, complex, stretched between American jazz, Caribbean and sometimes 20th-century classical music, Hill's music has never won him the fame of radical contemporaries like Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, or the Art Ensemble of Chicago.'

A sad truth... yet Hill had received some belated recognition in recent years... although I suspect that 'time, that with that strange excuse' (to appropriate a deleted section of Auden's poem and twist the meaning somewhat) will do much more than pardon his obscurity and see him elevated to a higher position in the public annals – where he undoubtedly belongs. John Fordham's obituary is here...

Andrew Hill
Andrew Hill (p) Bobby Hutcherson (vib) John Gilmore (ts) Richard Davis (b) Joe Chambers (d)
Le serpent qui danse



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