Scott Hill: Narrow Streets (2002)

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Scott Hill: Narrow Streets
The clarinet is not the most popular reed instrument in modern jazz; nevertheless artists including Don Byron (US) and Louis Sclavis (France) are making solid cases for the instrument in improvised music. Now add Bay Area musician Scott Hill to that select group of artists. With Narrow Streets he delivers a recording that at times bristles with excitement, and at others lulls with peaceful tranquility. As both a clarinetist and composer Hill can easily be considered a peer with both Byron and Sclavis.

Hill has been working in California's San Francisco Bay Area for about ten years. He has been actively involved with artists from the Middle East, and the influence is palpable on this, his sophomore recording. “Nervous Conversation” opens with a drone-like passage that owes much to Indian music, sounding like it could easily fit on a Remember Shakti recording; but then it moves into the main body, revolving around a walking bass line that shows Hill’s allegiance to the American tradition. “101 Names” also owes a debt to eastern music, with an extended, elliptical melody that demonstrates Hill’s eschewing of the standard AABA form so common in jazz composition.

“Question & Answer” bears some resemblance to the kind of oblique melodies one would find on a Louis Sclavis record, but without the intensity. “Sorry Leaving” is a serene ending to the album; along with the rest of the recording, it shows an inventive and exploratory approach which, at the same time, is deeply lyrical and highly engaging. One of the more remarkable aspects of Narrow Streets is its ability to challenge within a context that is easy to listen to and, therefore, should have a broader appeal.

Joining Hill on the recording is guitarist Michael Felberbaum, who shows, along with Marc Ducret and Manu Codjia, that the French have a distinct take on the instrument. While most young American guitarists wear their roots strongly on their sleeves, Felberbaum has assimilated them into a more personal style. Bassist Stephen Kerecki has a rich tone that owes something to Dave Holland; in fact, his solo on “Albuterol” has the same sense of melodic invention that is characteristic of the best of Holland. New York drummer Mark Dodge has a muscular sound mixed with a subtle approach, bringing to mind another New Yorker, Joey Baron.

If I have any complaint about the recording, it is its short duration. At a little over thirty-five minutes, Narrow Streets definitely leaves you wanting more. On the other hand, there is absolutely no filler on this record. Every piece means something and every note counts; and leaving one wanting is not necessarily a bad thing. It will certainly encourage listeners to check out Hill’s next release. With Narrow Streets Scott Hill has emerged as an artist who is intent on pushing the boundaries of both his chosen instrument and modern improvised music.

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Track Listing: Nervous Conversation; Question and Answer; You Think Too Much; 101 Names; Albuterol; Sorry Leaving

Personnel: Scott Hill (clarinet), Michael Felberbaum (guitar), Stephen Kerecki (bass), Mark Dodge (drums)

Record Label: ToneHole Music

Style: Modern Jazz

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