Sometimes a live recording captures the dynamism and vibe of a band that's really "on." In ideal situations, the musical energy is obvious right off the bat, continues throughout the set, and winds up on a disc. The listener thinks: "Man, I would love to have been at that gig." Andrew Hill's new release A Beautiful Day is one of those recordings.
Hill is a pianist who's been around for a long time and played in many different settings. This new release features his big band, and was recorded during a January 24-26, 2002 stint at Birdland in New York City.
It is a real BIG band. A piano/bass/drums rhythm section backs a stage full of horn players – five woodwinds, four trumpets, three trombones and a tuba. But it's a modern big band. Don't expect any standards or pop tunes – there are eight original Hill compositions and the recording is packed with arty and inventive arrangements and forward-looking solos.
Hill's compositions allow lots of space for improvising – the music feels like it's pushing and pulling, going in and out, and expanding and contracting around the written frameworks. A good deal of that push and pull energy originates from drummer Nasheet Waits, whose polyrhythmic command and straight ahead jazz foundation allow him to fire off inventive drum statements at will. His propulsive, snapping, rich and dark sound is the band's modernist buoy.
The tunes are varied. Complex, brooding sections contrast with playful, hard-swinging themes. Old-school brass fanfares lead into expressionist, free blowing bashes. The music is dead serious, yet maintains humor and spontaneity.
Greg Tardy's powerful tenor solos stand out. Marty Ehrlich stands out on alto and on bass clarinet. John Savage gets to showcase his cool and pretty flute playing. Hill's piano work is masterful. His somber, refracted lines are understated and dignified, hinting at American popular song and bebop roots while continuously moving toward new territory.