Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Andrew Hill: The Philosophical Pianist

Andrew Hill (piano; b. 1937 - d. 2007)

For those unfamiliar with Andrew Hill let me say he was the embodiment of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell; he was heavily influenced by both, but he was an original in his own right.

He shifted between traditional compositions and more avant garde pieces, both with excellent and thought-provoking effect. The core recording I would like to recommend today is something many of you may have seen in a record store before, Point Of Departure (Blue Note, 1964).

Point Of Departure was a valiant step above his previous recordings by utilizing the wide array of strengths his band members would have to call upon. The recording features Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (alto sax), Tony Williams (drums), Richard Davis (bass) and Joe Henderson (tenor sax) whom at first glance many jazz fans would say how could this work? Well, it does fluctuate during each piece but somehow they all rise above to make this a legendary recording. Andrew Hill's writing allowed the band to feel free to move throughout the recording but was sublimely balanced enough to make each musician's contribution stand out including Joe Henderson on "Spectrum" and Tony Williams everywhere.

Andrew Hill's discography went through peaks and valleys only because of the time he took off from recording, but when he did record he recorded in huge chunks--so we are blessed with a massive catalog to enjoy. Since there isn't a "best of" collection to start from, I would highly recommend Point Of Departure as a way to challenge yourself but also to experience a great legend at the peak of his powers.

I was lucky enough to see one of his last shows in 2007 celebrating the reissue of another great album Passing Ships (Blue Note) and I have to tell you, Andrew Hill is even more phenomenal and spellbinding in person. Check out this video during the same time period. Andrew Hill would pass away a few weeks later due to lung cancer. The word gets thrown around allot (even by me) but Andrew Hill is a true legend who is already missed on the jazz scene...

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