andrewhill

Woody Shaw/Anthony Braxton ‘The Iron Men’

This love letter to the work of inside/outside pioneers Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson, and all the other “iron men” (as Shaw calls them) is a BURNER. Shaw is joined by Anthony Braxton, who pulls triple duty on alto & soprano sax, as well as clarinet. Shaw is a triple threat as well on trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn. Arthur Blythe adds alto sax on two tracks as well. They’ve got a knockout rhythm section that’s both fluid and powerful, with Muhal Richard Abrams (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), and drum duties split between Joe Chambers and Victor Lewis. Two sessions were recorded for Muse that comprise this record, one recorded on this day, 6 April, and another a week later on 13 April back in 1977. The material includes homages to Shaw’s earlier collaborations with Eric Dolphy, including the Dolphy original “Iron Man,” as well as Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” which Shaw had performed with Dolphy in the 60s. There’s a rousing, knotty romp through Andrew Hill’s “Symmetry,” which is my second-favorite track on the record, with McBee and Abrams engaging in a game of musical capture-the-flag that’s simply awe-inspiring. Top-of-the-heap, however, is Shaw’s second run at his own “Song of Songs,” originally on the LP of the same name recorded for Contemporary in 1972. The ’72 version sets a spiritual mood. This version is fiercer, tighter, and leaves no ass unkicked. There’s marvelous interplay, terrific solos, and overall it’s a team effort that’s bound to please. Throughout the record, Shaw paints with his entire palette, showcasing both dazzling technique, and a buttery, smooth, tone. As you’d expect with Anthony Braxton on board, some of the music has sharp elbows, but don’t let that intimidate you—this is wonderful music and an under-appreciated Shaw session. Originally released on Muse (MR 5160) in 1981, it’s part of Mosaic’s Complete Muse Recordings of Woody Shaw, which boasts significantly improved sound over the LP

Andrew Hill ‘One For One’

I can’t honestly say that Andrew Hill’s music is the easiest or most obvious jazz to get one’s head around. But I can honestly say that his music has been some of the most consistently thrilling, engaging, and satisfying music I’ve discovered. The unexpected is the only constant in his boundary-testing music, and his run of excellence at Blue Note from 63-70–with over 15 albums worth of material that were all top shelf—is the stuff of legend. ‘One For One’ is a 1975 compilation from 3 previously unreleased sessions:
1965: Freddie Hubbard (cornet) Joe Henderson (tenor sax) Richard Davis (bass) & Joe Chambers (drums)
1969: Bennie Maupin (tenor sax, flute) Sanford Allen (violin) Al Brown, Selwart Clarke (viola) Kermit Moore (cello) Ron Carter (bass) & Mickey Roker (drums)
1970: Bennie Maupin (tenor, flute & bass clarinet) Pat Patrick (alto, flute & baritone sax) Charles Tolliver (trumpet) & Ben Riley (drums)
“Ocho Rios” from the ‘65 session may be my favorite Hill track, ever. Some of the material (and then some) was eventually issued as ‘Pax’ and all if it (and even more) was issued as a Mosaic 3CD box some years later. I like the way Joe Henderson is mixed on this LP more so than the CD—to my ears, his presence is more ferocious on vinyl, and he’s going more toe-to-toe with Hubbard. On the CD, there’s something about the mix that makes him sound a bit tamer, which gives a different sonic fingerprint to the session, relegating Henderson more to the role of straight-man to Hubbard’s youthful brashness. But that’s my ears, and you should trust yours, and both LP and CD have lots to offer. The Blue Note Classics Twofers LP series is largely high quality, with unissued material and good liner notes. Most can still be found without too much trouble or $, but they have gotten scarcer, and prices have risen…if you collect, don’t sleep on these. I have yet to get one I haven’t loved

Andrew Hill ‘Dance With Death’

Pianist Andrew Hill’s ‘Dance With Death’ is one of THE BEST sessions made for Blue Note in the late 1960s. Sadly, it sat on the shelf for quite a while as tastes and marketing teams had shifted their focus towards more commercial and soul-jazz outings, and ‘Dance With Death’ is pretty far from both. ‘Dance With Death’ is an inventive, inside/outside, post-bop affair that’s pretty much guaranteed to capture and retain your undivided attention. “Fish n Rice” is a boogaloo-on-LSD dance number for people with two left feet. “Love Nocturne” is the kind of ballad you’d definitely NOT bring home to mom. The title track is a mid-tempo noir soundtrack to an unsolvable mystery—the mystery to me being how the drummer manages to tread the air above the din, locking into a modified 4/4 while his bandmates are working with complex fractions. Hill’s compositions are adventurous, and he’s got a top-flight band to realize his vision: Charles Tolliver-trumpet, Joe Farrell-tenor/soprano sax, Victor Sproles-bass, & Billy Higgins-drums. Joe Farrell and Charles Tolliver are a particularly well-matched brass pair, sounding positively HUGE when going into lockstep. Tolliver, in particular, solos with confidence and agility. His chops are on display, but he never crosses the line into overplaying. Hill’s run at Blue Note from 63-70 is rather fantastic, with a dozen-plus sessions/albums that are all worth hearing and most worth owning. I’d put this one, ‘Passing Ships,’ and ‘Pax’ at the top of my list of Andrew Hill requests/suggestions for the team @donwas @jazzsaraswati

Bobby Hutcherson ‘Dialogue’

Ethereal vibes are challenged by deep bass clarinet growls, as angular piano fills offset sinewy bass lines. Rapid-fire trumpet riffs buffet intricate drum work as a mournful soprano sax line spirals skywards into the night. ‘Dialogue’ is vibraphone master Bobby Hutcherson’s first release as a leader, and it’s quite a statement. ‘Dialogue’ was a bold step forward into the “new thing,” and shares quite a bit of musical DNA with several other projects Hutch had been a participant in, including Andrew Hill’s ‘Point of Departure,’ Jackie McLean’s ‘One Step Beyond’ and Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out to Lunch.’ While not quite as edgy as the latter, enjoyment of ‘Dialogue’ requires an advanced sense of adventure and an appreciation for coloring outside the lines. Hutch pulled together compatriots from some of those aforementioned outside/inside records including Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Andrew Hill (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Sam Rivers (tenor/soprano sax, bass clarinet, flute) and a key musical partner who’d remain in his orbit for many future albums, Joe Chambers (drums). While Hutch is credited as the leader, all of the writing is done by either Hill (four tracks) or Chambers (two tracks), and in a sense, it’s probably Hill who deserves co-leader billing here. That said, it’s tough to call out any specific player as the brilliance here is the conversation between them, and the insanely creative use of instrumentation to invoke moods. This is a challenging, cerebral record that moves from beautiful (“Idle While”) to unsettling (“Dialogue”); and from the zany, Avant-leaning “Les Noirs Marchant” (which could be the soundtrack to the Ents marching on Orthanc) to the demented blues of “Ghetto Lights.” So…chamber hard-bop? Avant modal blues? I can’t say this record “defies categorization,” but it does cover a LOT of ground. Everyone should hear it, but it’s not *FOR* everyone. Why it’s so difficult to find on vinyl is a real head-scratcher…here’s hoping someone @bluenoterecords gets the memo on this classic and puts it back in print soon

Andrew Hill ‘Smokestack’

This is one of the toughest Andrew Hill records to get your head around. Many of the compositions feel like Hill’s stream of consciousness—ideas, thoughts and emotions are on full display without traditional structures or tonal centers. Some of these resolve into beautiful melodic fragments, but those moments are fleeting. It’s what fascinates and frustrates me about ’Smokestack’—sometimes my listening experience is that of pleasant surprise, while other times I feel like he’s just gotten an idea developed into something interesting and tuneful, and then killed it off prematurely before it had a chance to really take flight. But it’s impossible to know Hill’s mind, and the fact that I keep coming back to it even after an unsatisfying listening session must say something. It’s certainly compelling even it if isn’t always easy to listen to. It’s not exactly free jazz, but it’s not a toe-tapper of a hard bop session either. The presence of TWO bassists is an interesting choice. Richard Davis Is in a role I’d describe as “lead bass” while Eddie Khan is bassist in a more traditional rhythmic sense. So Hill and Davis are on the frontline while Khan and drummer Roy Haynes hold down the pulse (or what passes for pulse in these compositions where the time signatures likely read “perpetual change”). This is most starkly on display in “Wailing Wall” where Davis goes arco and his bowed lead lines do in fact wail in a way that borders on the unsettling, while Khan holds that low end down fiercely. As a counterpoint, “Verne” which Hill composed for his wife is a beautiful ballad that one might expect to hear on a more traditional jazz piano trio record. This was Hill’s second session for Blue Note, recorded this date in 1963, though held for release until 1966. Challenging music. Not for the squeamish

Sam Rivers ‘Involution’

Birthday boy Sam Rivers would have turned 95 years young today. Many know him for his brief stint in the sax chair in @milesdavis embryonic Second Great Quintet where he replaced George Coleman. Rivers would last only briefly (appearing on ‘Miles in Tokyo’) before being replaced by Wayne Shorter. Rivers then stepped out as leader and sideman for Blue Note, Impulse!, Black Saint, RCA, Horo and his own Rivbea label. Rivbea was a portmanteau of his name and his wife Bea, and also the name of their loft where numerous free jazz sessions were held in NYC during the 70s. This two-fer contains a pair of Blue Note sessions from the 60s: one is a quartet under pianist Andrew Hill’s leadership (later released on CD as ‘Change’) featuring Walter Booker (bass) and J.C. Moses (drums) recorded 7 March 1966; the other a sextet under Rivers’ leadership (later issued as ‘Dimensions and Extensions’) recorded 17 Mar 1967 featuring Donald Byrd (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), James Spaulding (alto sax/flute), Cecil McBee (bass) and Steve Ellington (drums). Both share a lot of musical DNA—an elusive tonal center, playing that stretches harmonic boundaries and timekeeping that’s not exactly built for clapping along. The compositions are complex and challenging—there’s a lot of “out” playing here as the knotty heads of each tune serve as a launchpad to some seriously ambitious and adventurous group improvisation. Dig deep—there’s swing and beauty though both can be elusive, and don’t believe anyone who says “it’s out there, but still really accessible!”. It’s not…certainly not in the way that Rivers’ earlier Blue Note records like ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’ or ‘Contours’ can sound like hard/post bop records with occasional sharp elbows. ‘Involution’ isn’t for beginners. Or those who are learning to waltz. This is challenging but ultimately really rewarding music. As I’ve previously noted, this beige-cover Blue Note Classics series is uniformly excellent—great pressings, informative liner notes and material that’s otherwise difficult to find. They are also often reasonably priced and pretty easy to find in the wild. Recommended

Andrew Hill ‘Black Fire’

When @bluenoterecords announced the “Tone Poet” series as part of their 80th Anniversary celebration, there were two titles I was most excited about. Sam Rivers ‘Countours’, and this album, Andrew Hill’s ‘Black Fire’. It was Hill’s debut as a leader on Blue Note and the start of an extraordinary run that would span 13 albums over the next six years. Hill’s partners for this session are bassist Richard Davis, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Roy Haynes. Collaborating with Richard Davis would be come a recurring theme for Hill, resulting in some of his most successful sessions. Roy Haynes struts with an agile confidence that gives Davis ample room to explore and find elusive grooves, while tenor sax monster Joe Henderson is…well, monstrous. Killer playing all around. The music is spellbinding—Hill has his own rule book about harmony and time, bending both to his will as needed to work within the constructs of his music, some of which is like looking at an MC Escher sketch. The geometry seems skewed until you allow yourself to see it from another perspective, then it blows your reality apart, and makes sense in a really compelling way. Hill composed every track on the record, and the quartet takes hold of each one like it’s an enormous, restless anaconda. Not a grouchy one—there’s not really much aggression here. It’s more like the music is relentlessly exploring its enclosure, testing to see if the boundaries are *REALLY* boundaries or if there’s somewhere else to go. Someplace further. The journey is the prize here. Five stars and two thumbs up to the Joe Harley and the entire Tone Poet team for a terrific job on this. Superb record and outstanding job on the reissue—best this record has EVER sounded. Well done team Tone Poet! 10 stars out of 5