[JPL] Compositions From the 1960s, With a Mystery of the Moment

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 20 13:30:17 EST 2006

November 16, 2006
Music Review | 'Andrew Hill'
Compositions From the 1960s, With a Mystery of the
Mystery comes naturally to the pianist and composer
Andrew Hill. In fact, it seems to come inevitably,
like the lapping of waves on a shore. This is no
accident: Mr. Hill’s career, from the early 1960s on,
is a study in aesthetic conviction. That his music is
unmistakable is a testament not only to its
distinctive opacity but also to his firmness of

Those qualities have worked for and against him over
the years, but on balance they have served his art
extraordinarily well. It’s one reason that “Passing
Ships,” an album recorded for Blue Note in 1969 but
issued only three years ago, was hailed as an
Atlantis-scale discovery rather than just another
overlooked gem. And it helps demonstrate why Mr.
Hill’s interpretation of the album on Tuesday night at
Merkin Hall — its first and only performance since the
recording — was such a significant event.

“Passing Ships” features arrangements for an unusual
nine-piece ensemble: five brass instruments, including
tuba and French horn, in addition to a one-man battery
of woodwinds and a rhythm section. Because the parts
hew to an internal architecture, the balance of sound
is crucial. In a conversation with Mr. Hill that
prefaced the main portion of the concert, the producer
Michael Cuscuna explained why the album went
unreleased for so long: the stereo tape in the Blue
Note vault was crudely mixed and “sounded like a train

The concert was no train wreck, despite a few small
miscues. Leading a group of attentive players —
including one invaluable alumnus of the original
sessions, the tuba and bass clarinet specialist Howard
Johnson — Mr. Hill offered an investigation of the
album that was richly nuanced, if hardly definitive. 

The opener was “Noon Tide,” an overture complete with
fanfare. There were flashes of improvisation by J. D.
Parran on alto flute, Mark Taylor on French horn and
Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, but the piece, all
percolating rhythm and static harmony, was ultimately
a showcase for the assertive trumpeter Keyon Harrold. 

“Sideways,” which came next, more clearly demonstrated
Mr. Hill’s affinities for lyrical angularity and
complex chord voicing; as a sly act of disorientation,
it succeeded beautifully. 

“Plantation Bag” was even stronger, with its acoustic
funk undercurrent and blues-rooted horn interjections.
The musicians were deepening their rapport as they
played, and growing more responsive to Mr. Hill, who
conducted, so to speak, with the same inscrutable
efficiency he brought to the piano. 

Mr. Hill’s pianism had been more properly featured in
the concert’s meditative first half, with the bassist
John Hebert and the drummer Eric McPherson. Their
interaction was wellspring-deep, seemingly in tune on
a subconscious level. Rhythms ebbed, surged and
overlapped, all by some secret logic. Mr. Hill’s
casually solemn abstractions were both gorgeous and

After the concert-closing flutter of “Passing Ships,”
the album’s noirlike title track, Mr. Hill returned to
the stage for a solo piano encore. What he played was
a coda not unlike the final piece on “Time Lines,” his
exquisite current Blue Note release. In other words,
it was impressionistic and serene. And it sounded
unfinished, in the best possible sense.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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