Andrew Hill: Time Lines
You would think that after playing for more than half a century, performing with greats like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, leading and producing acclaimed recordings with names of Eric Dolphy, Lee Morgan, and many others, that pianist/composer Andrew Hillwho is nearly seventy years youngmight be slowing down.
Thankfully for jazz fans, this is not the case.
The passage of time continues to unfold Hill's creative ingenuity as he begins his third era with Blue Note with Time Lines. Following the highly praised recordings Dusk (2000), Beautiful Day (2002), and an uncovered treasure that was recorded in 1969, Passing Ships (2004), Hill's music is still as vibrant and progressive as ever. Whether expressing brilliant ideas through a seventeen-piece band, smaller ensembles, or as a soloist, Hill's enigmatic approach is a rare and wondrous experience.
Time Lines captures the essence of some of his earlier quintet works with a working ensemble that has performed with him over the past few years: drummer Eric McPherson, bassist John Herbert, clarinetist and saxophonist Greg Tardy, and a reunion with trumpeter Charles Tolliver, who played with Hill on early recordings. Like many great music leaders, such as Ellington, Shorter, and Coltrane; Hill inspires and brings out the best in already stellar musicians.
Tolliver, who played with Hill in the '60s, is a key presence with a poetic and smooth style. Tardy, one of Hill's choice horn players, is absolutely fierce on both sax and clarinet. Herbert delivers a resonant and booming tone from his bass, full of potency and dexterity; and McPherson is an impressive young lion who has performed with names from Max Roach to Greg Osby. Together they form a cohesive support for Hill to channel his always fruitful ideas.
As always, Hill is innovative in his approach, yet steadfast in delivering the kind of music that has always been just outside of the mainstream, but never alienates the listener. While his playing may not be as precise as it once was, his musical vision is acute, as revealed by eight new compositions that are challenging, lyrical and beautiful.
The music is bookended between two versions of "Malachi, dedicated to one of Hill's earliest collaborators, the late bassist Malachi Favors (of the Art Ensemble of Chicago). The quintet version is pensive and alluring; Hill plays with probing notes and the horns serenely lift the melody afterward, offering stirring clarinet and trumpet solos. The later version features Hill playing solo piano, allowing him to articulate moods of both melancholy and reflection.
The remaining compositions are a study in modern improvisation. The title piece "Time Lines unfolds with a jagged cadence and pulsating bass, with the piano and horns echoing the phrase as singular voices deliver moving solos (In particular Tardy, who delivers a lyrical and dynamic saxophone solo.) "For Emilio, dedicated to the late painter Emilio Cruz, begins with a bass/clarinet intro that blossoms into an odd rhythm as Hill comps resolutely and ends with a melodic percussive drum solo from McPherson.
Timing plays a factor on two different interpretations of the composition "Ry Round. The swinging up-tempo pieces were recorded within one week intervals, producing two similar but varied contours from the same canvas of musicians. "Kin'ler is an atmospheric ballad with sweeping lines and a quiet tension, whereas "Smooth is a double-time cooker defined by the powerful rhythm section, swelling horns and flowering piano.
As time moves on, in the end it is all about the music. We should be thankful for an artist of this caliber whose music continues to resonate. Andrew Hill is a treasure, and Time Lines is one of the highlights of the year.
Tracks: Malachi; Time Lines; Ry Round 1; For Emilio; Kin'ler; Smooth; Ry Round 2; Malachi (solo piano version).
Personnel: Andrew Hill: piano; Charles Tolliver: trumpet; Greg Tardy: saxophone, clarinet; John Herbert: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.