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Andrew Hill: Coming Back Full Circle

By Published: February 27, 2006
AAJ: What do you like best about Tardy's playing?

AH: I like the fact that he's able to change each time he plays. He's got the ability and the sensibility to create a different solo each time that's interesting. And he does listen to and try to fit in with what's going on around him.

AAJ: You've used a lot of bass clarinet in your groups over the years—Bennie Maupin, Greg Tardy. I think you've done a lot to make that instrument more prominent in jazz beyond the influence of Eric Dolphy, who of course also played with you. Do you have a special love for the instrument, or does it bring something specific that you hear in the pieces you write?

AH: There's not any great affinity for it. It's just that sometimes you hire people; you ask them to perform for you. And then you have to give them full respect for whatever instrument they play. Sometimes, when you trust them enough to let them do certain things, they give more of themselves than you even expected. It's not the love of the instrument itself; it's giving the instrumentalist the freedom to do whatever they can.

AAJ: You've already spoken of Charles Tolliver and what you thought he could add to this group. But tell me a bit more about what he's bringing—he does seem extremely comfortable in your music on this record. I think on "Time Lines, he really makes the meaning of the word "play obvious—there's a huge sense of play and joyousness in his trumpet work. He seems almost gleeful.

AH: That's a good question because that's something I really have been trying to deal with since I did those shows with him. That's the question that's been asked: "why did you use Charles? I guess he's bringing his presence in 2006. But it is a hard question for me to answer truthfully. I could give it a little spin—but I really can't spin on it because a lot of times—like the record title Passing Ships—the best thing you can do is pass by someone and not hurt him.

AAJ: Well, sometimes you don't need a spoken, intellectual reason to do something.

AH: Yeah! It's like love—when it's on, no one has to tell you! And when it's given you what it has to give you, that intangible situation, no one has to explain it.

AAJ: The song "Malachi appears twice on the record. There's a band version and your solo piano version. This has one of your loveliest melodies, and to me it's the spaces between the notes that give the song its power. Why did you include the two different versions?

AH: I played the song on piano to Michael [Cuscuna] and he liked that version, because to him, the piano version offered something the group version didn't offer. So he asked if I'd mind playing it solo and I said no. The way it's compiled it fit in very well; it's very nice.

AAJ: The band version has a beautiful, swaying quality—there's a dancing feeling to the bass and cymbals. This is a song I can't imagine being played at a faster tempo; it seems like it could only exist at the speed it's in.

AH: Well, sometimes you can find the right tempo for a song. But going back to the Blue Note tradition, the way people used to treat a melody—a good melody can be played fast, it can be played Latin, it can be played as the blues. It should be adaptable to all those different approaches. But here we might have discovered the right tempo for it.

AAJ: My favorite song on the album is "Time Lines. It's built around that staccato theme and the tenor/trumpet call-and-response with your piano darting around between them. What can you tell me about this song?

AH: "Time Lines reminds me of a whirling, Turkish-dervish kind of music—not that it's exactly like that. The 11/8 time gives it a hypnotic quality, especially when you count the time—even though it's eleven—as a four. Those times exist within each other. It feeds itself because there's a combination of crossing rhythms that one can play against the main rhythm.

AAJ: That 11/8 time gives me a feeling of oceanic, vibrating rhythm—like a sea's surface that changes slightly constantly.

AH: That's what I like about it, because it really incorporates everyone naturally in an unnatural rhythm.

AAJ: There are also two versions on the CD of "Ry Rounds —sort of two snapshots of something taken from different angles. I know they're in different time signatures—one in a sort of complex 4/4 and the other in mixed meter?

AH: The first one was a 4/4 and a six against four. The second was focused on the six more than it was focused on the four. And it's the same melody, basically. It shows what spontaneous playing of a tune, playing it over again, will do; that's why it varied so much the second week from the first week. We didn't have to do it again, but the results were interesting, and we seemed to get to the spirit of it.

AAJ: Somehow, the second version—"Ry Rounds 2, which you recorded a week or two after the first—its time gives it a slightly more ominous quality than the first.

AH: It does have a little more of that to it. "Ry Rounds seems to be a composition that one can record over and over and over again and something different will come out.

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