Composer/pianist Andrew Hill has been making unique and challenging music for nearly 40 years; a brilliant pianist whose darkly textured rhythmically inventive style powerfully drives his rich lustrous compositions. Totally at home in a variety of styles, from the passionate rhythms of his Haitian roots to the dense hues of swirling abstraction, Andrew Hill is always his own man. In this edition, George Lane reviews Hill's second Blue Note recording, Judgement.
One of the best things about the experimentation that dominated the Jazz scene in the '60s was the reassessment and challenge of the accepted traditions, but with respect and without imitation. That has always been the life force of the music, going back to Louis Armstrong and the Ellington "Jungle" Bands.
This confrontational recording follows that same tradition. The Modern Jazz Quartet set the standard for the vibraharp, piano, bass, drums quartet, adept at solid mainstream Jazz and equally comfortable in the ephemeral world between Jazz and classical, often referred to as "third stream." Andrew Hill's Judgement, recorded in 1964, takes that standard forward into another dimension of tonal, harmonic and rhythmic adventure.
A brilliant composer, Hill's vivid and distinctive compositions always allow the soloist and the rhythm section enormous freedom without losing structure. In this instrumental setting great interplay is required and the choice of musicians is of utmost importance. Hill could not have made a better choice for this session.
Bobby Hutcherson, a brilliant vibraharpist, approaches the instrument like a horn player in his solos, but when he's part of the rhythm, his ethereal sound and use of space suspend the rhythm into more of a pulse, which is perfect for Hill's music.
Bassist Richard Davis was a frequent participant in Hill's recordings, and his playing here leaves no question as to why. Constantly creative, with a strong, edgy sound and a sharp rhythmic sense, his contributions to the remarkable interplay are simply wonderful.
The real driving force, though, is the drumming of the amazing Elvin Jones. Whether it's the fully propelled rhythms on 'Judgement,' the easy swing of 'Reconciliation,' the odd 7/8 meter of 'Siete Ocho,' or the sensitive brushwork on the beautiful 'Alfred,' Elvin is a one-man rhythm section, providing layers of polyrhythmic musicality that is astonishing.
Hill's piano glues it all together, his Tatum/Monk/Powell influences evident throughout, especially in his solo turn on 'Yokada, Yokada.'
This is collective improvisation at its best.