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Andrew Hill: Coming Back Full Circle

By Published: February 27, 2006
AAJ: Meaningless novelty for its own sake.

AH: [laughing] You said it, but it's true!

AAJ: I want to talk about the new record, Time Lines. When you did the recording, did you have a large number of compositions to choose from?

AH: Well, I wrote a few things especially for the date. But the main thing is that we were lucky to perform for a period at Birdland, which was before any recording was considered. Iridium, also—these clubs really gave me a generous amount to perform. So I felt it was my responsibility to create some music that had some type of synergy with the live audience. So we chose from some older things—not that many, two or three—and then we came up with some newer things that then fit right into the recording. There were a lot of things that could have been included, but I would have been including them for legacy, not for people.

AAJ: This is a quintet album, and the players are your working band, plus your old collaborator Charles Tolliver. Was the format your idea—meaning did you always want to do a quintet record?

AH: Yeah, I'd thought about doing the record with quintet. And I had thought about using one of the newer trumpet players—some of them are really splendid and magnificent. But I saw that Charles was having a resurgence, so I figured that if he was still competent in a few areas, it might be interesting. It might give the group a balance in the direction that I wanted this group to be. I wanted this group to be free, but exciting rhythmically. It was good—by inserting him, it helped give it that direction. And with this group, the trumpet player won't be stuck in a certain slot—he knows he's got the freedom to play the trumpet.

AAJ: I like the sequencing of the record—it starts and ends with the two versions of "Malachi, and there's the two "Ry Rounds near the beginning and end as well—there's a sort of elegant symmetry. I really get the impression that you thought about presenting the album in this order. Did you?

AH: A lot of it was Michael Cuscuna's idea. But a lot of it was sort of following the shape of the old Blue Note records—they'd have a bluesy-type number, a Latin number. Everything wasn't the same. It was good music, but it was inclusive of all people—not just one dimension of the music for a small segment of people who only liked that one type of music.

AAJ: Let's talk about your band. It's composed of younger players, except for Tolliver. I am very impressed with this rhythm section of Eric McPherson and John Hebert; I'm interested with the way they deal with time on this record. It's different than any other band you've had before—"Time Lines is a good an example of what they're doing as any. Tell me what this rhythm section brings to your music.

AH: Well, they have a certain flexibility with rhythm where there's an emotion to the rhythm. I like this rhythm section for this looseness—but still, loose as it is, it's not just energy-time drumming. The drumming can create off the rhythm, and that's what they do, really: they use rhythm for a theme and create off that rhythm.

AAJ: It's fluid and sparkling but never chaotic.

AH: Right, it's not chaotic. I wanted the form of rhythm, not just chaotic energy.

AAJ: Greg Tardy plays tenor and clarinets. You've had as many amazing horn players on your records as anyone I can think of, going back to include most prominently Eric Dolphy, Joe Farrell, and Greg Osby. When it comes to reeds players, is there some specific feature you're attracted to that they all possess? Or are you more attracted to players for their individual qualities?

AH: For themselves. But you also play with people that have a love for the music, that aren't bound to any harmonic or rhythmic style, that have the flexibility to interpret whatever the music is and bring something different to it. I look for a horn player's ability to fill the music up and provide what I call a creative contact with the group—something that comes out of the music and that will stand out enough where people will hear it. Some of the mistakes that musicians have made are to think, "Well, the audiences aren't musicologists, so how can they have a right to like or dislike it? They give no rights to the audience. But actually, they have more rights than the musicians, since they've been listening to this music for years! Maybe not analytically, but it's their music. At least for some of them, it's their music, and they can hear it more purely than the musicians. So I look for players who are not so contained in themselves. The old-timers in jazz used to tell me, "it's good to be different, because difference is great—that's what the music is based on. But lose that energy between the audience and the players and you have nothing.

AAJ: Well, then you might as well just practice and never play out.

AH: Or only play out at art councils' concerts. Then you can get some people who want to identify with you more than your music.

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