ANDREW HILL - "TIME LINES"
By Birney K. Brown
Even if composer/pianist Andrew Hill had never released any album after 1964's "Point Of Departure", he would still be a legendary figure in the annals of post-bop jazz. That session involved perhaps the most formidable collection of musicians to ever work on one project: Eric Dolphy, Joe Henderson, Kenny Dorham, Tony Williams and Richard Davis. All five compositions were penned by Mr. Hill and captured by Blue Note's Rudy Van Gelder. In fact, Hill did release a series of masterpieces, such as "Black Fire", "Smokestack", "Judgement" and "Andrew !" - in addition to unreleased material which is just now being issued to his lusting public.
But Mr. Hill dealt with the cerebral, abstract and complex side of jazz. It was hardly surprising when he elected to enter the academia side of the equation, becoming largely a teacher with occasional recordings that were invariably top flight. Any musician involved in these had to be ready. His scores were always works of brilliant art - never jam sessions and rarely covers. His compositions demanded total concentration for unison playing and inspired heroic solos.
Mr. Hill's latest Blue Note release, "Time Lines" continues in the same vein. (It also reunites him with the label for his third decade of stints). This quintet session is highlighted by the return of Hill's severely under-recognized cohort from the past, trumpeter Charles Tolliver, who absolutely burns and repeatedly stuns the listener. But the more startling news here is the two artists that Hill miraculously propels to the forefront: Greg Tardy on tenor sax/clarinet/ bass clarinet and drummer extraordinaire Eric McPherson, who reacts to this session by playing way beyond impeccably. The man has arrived! Bassist John Hebert does what simply demands to be done, as does the engineering and production team. This recording does full justice to the immense program - it fully matches the state-of-the-art playing. A perfect performance matched by audio perfection.
I initially intended to discuss this release piece by piece covering the eight originals individually. Perhaps this can be done with lesser discs, but not here. Attempting to describe the indescribable or to identify 2 or 3 favorites here is impossible. Trying to discuss each tune addressing the song structure and soloing would simply be unfair. This is because Mr. Hill's writing is so accomplished that every note by each player throughout is a solo. This dictionary-defying statement defines the nature of the composer - he is able to score works where constant soloing contributes to the whole. Somehow, the musicians don't get in each other's way. Andrew Hill has achieved a PhD in "Andrew Hill-ism". His doctorate dissertation defines the conceptualization of a jazz group as a whole. Each musician is a part, each unison contribution is a part, each solo is a part - and the parts create the whole. There is no distinction. The overall piece, therefore, is finalized on his conception of the contributing parts leading to the end product . The individualism shown is subordinate to what is being presented. No one else currently does this as well. (Perhaps Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean or Cedar Walton can approach this level- but very, very few others).
The recognized "masters" of jazz are just that, possessors of "Masters degrees", still striving to achieve Mr. Hill's PhD level. The immensity of his work here is almost beyond comprehension. It is the post-bop, free spirit jazz equivalent to the works of Beethoven, Brahms, Bach and Mozart. Mr. Hill has elevated this truly American art form to the highest level of intellectualism. This disc is a major piece of art, not just highest level jazz, but art - period! If the world was anywhere near a proper place, Andrew Hill would be a multi-Grammy winning household name. As it is, he is an obscure genius toiling in a niche genre. Anyone who appreciates jazz music should snap this one up. I never would have thought Mr. Hill could match the legacy of "Point Of Departure". To maybe even have exceeded it over 40 years later is a testament to one of the very finest artists in any category of music. I will be in a state of shock if this February release doesn't end up being viewed by jazz critics as the justifiably renowned record of the year. It would be more than totally deserved. One can't do better than superb sonics and "better than superb" compositions.
(Did I mention that Greg Tardy brings back memories of THE Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet? It cannot get any better than that. Just can't.)
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