Friday, April 20. 2007
Just got the news that Andrew Hill passed away this morning. Age 75, lung cancer, which he's struggled with for several years. (Many sources give his birth date as 1937, evidently an error.) One of the most important jazz pianists to emerge in the 1960s, he was uniquely skilled at advancing jazz in ways that at once seemed rigorously conservative and daringly avant-garde. Alfred Lion was a big fan, recording Hill extensively for Blue Note, including much that has only recently surfaced. In the early '70s Blue Note pretty much collapsed, leaving Hill with few opportunities, mostly for obscure European labels. One of those records, the piano trio Shades (1986, Soul Note), won me over and sent me back in search of the oldies -- a difficult task, given that only Point of Departure has been reliably in print. But Hill made a remarkable comeback starting with two 2000-02 records on Palmetto and capped by his return to Blue Note for the much praised Time Lines (2006). The later albums turned on Hill's considerable skills as a composer and arranger. At the time I semi-dismissed the latter as "perfectly typical of everything he's done over the last forty years" -- most likely the same reason many critics cited it as their record of the year.
One result of Hill's comeback is that his Blue Note catalog has largely been returned to print, including a treasure trove of previously unreleased material passed on to Mosaic. For what it's worth, I've pulled the following data on what I've heard. Like most of what's in the database, this list was assembled over time with evolving criteria. At some point it would be nice to go back and spend a few days reviewing the whole set. I wonder now whether the legendary Point of Departure and/or the solo Verona Rag -- the first two records I encountered below -- might not fare better.
Among the A- records, I've been plugging Pax recently. But for a real taste of Hill's piano, seek out Shades.
Postscript (8:30 pm): I heard about Hill on the same day he died, thanks to Blue Note's publicist. Later today I read that Leroy Jenkins died back on Feb. 24, age 74, also of lung cancer. Jenkins was a jazz giant comparable to Hill, but never had a major label -- aside from one Revolutionary Ensemble album in A&M in 1975 -- and often had no label at all. He single-handedly invented avant-jazz violin -- had the field totally to himself until Billy Bang came along. He was an AACM founder. Early on he worked with Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Alice Coltrane, Alan Silva, Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Grachan Moncur III, Wadada Leo Smith, George Lewis. I actually discovered Jenkins long before I tuned in to Hill. Some items from the database, with the same caveats -- although I replayed the first two tonight.
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