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Nels Cline: Entering the New Monastery

By Published: October 24, 2006

NC: Here's what I did because I'm kind of a dumb ass. I'd met Andrew Hill many years ago, at the Skopje Macedonia Jazz Festival. I was there playing with Gregg Bendian's Interzone, and he was there with his trio. He was such a delightful person to meet, and I'm sure he doesn't remember it. A couple people I know have played with him. Marty Ehrlich still does on and off. So, I thought I'd be able to find out how many of these pieces he still had music for. Ben Goldberg told me he thought some this music had been destroyed in a garage fire many years ago. My attempts to engage Andrew on the phone about it were not successful. We just never hooked up. As it got closer and closer to the point where I had to do these for real, I just had to basically sit and do take downs from the recordings and arrange them. So, I could have wrong notes in there, because the area of harmony and chord symbols is highly subjective and I was really interested in what some his harmonic concepts would be, what he was thinking, might give me some insight. As it is, what you'll be hearing is essentially what I arrived at, plus I relied on the members of the group to streamline their parts or to make suggestions.

Because I'm no wizard, I'm definitely open to suggestions. Some of the way we approached the pieces, which was my idea, was to do suites of the themes, so that we have an episodic journey of improvisation, blending one piece into another. Not only did I feel that was a way that we could naturally enjoy interacting as musicians, it also is the way a lot of Andrew's music is now, and has been for awhile. I think the piece "Spectrum, which we didn't do, which is on Point of Departure (Blue Note, 1964), is an excellent example of the earliest indication of where his music was going. More episodic, more free, it doesn't just have head solo head.

So I wanted to reflect what I think his music has been about for twenty years or something, especially for larger ensembles. At the same time, we could fit more tunes in that way. I had this huge list of pieces I knew would never fit on a record. Also to say that the pieces I did chose are ultimately not a collection of my favorite Andrew Hill pieces, they're pieces that I thought we could play and not ruin. For example, Bobby Bradford, he's not a [trumpeter] Dave Douglas style player. Bobby, you want to solo, to put his voice on the music and not tangle him up in a whole bunch of gnarly trumpet parts.

I just wanted everyone to feel relaxed in the music and not feel they had to do some sort of gymnastic exercise. Because some of Andrew's music is pretty hard, but a lot of it is very straightforward, and singable with beautiful harmony. And I also wanted to throw some oddities in there, like we did "McNeil Island from Black Fire (Blue Note, 1963) as a duet with clarinet and guitar, and Ben commented, "No one ever covered that song. So, that's fun.

There's a line on a piece, and I'm not even sure how you say the title, and I actually left messages with Andrew Hill on his work phone machine, that I really wanted to get this line because it's a more current piece of his, and it's called, "Not Sa No Sa. The opening line is really fast, and I called Marty Ehrlich, Marty referred me to [trumpeter] Ron Horton, everybody was on tour and couldn't get the music to me soon enough, so what you have now is a super sloppy urban legend version of that piece. That's just the way it had to be.

I also originally intended to do a piece from the record he did with a jazz quartet and a string quartet, unreleased stuff—some of it emerged on a record called One for One, a twofer album from the seventies [ed. note: actually released on Blue Note in 1969]. We ran out of room, also I really would have loved to have had the original string parts rather than trying to do take downs on this crazy stuff that happens during this piano solo. Then, we would have had to get a string quartet, and we just ran out of space on the record as it was. I did want to add that extra flourish to the record, and now everyone's saying, well sure, you can do it on volume two.

AAJ: It seems like his Palmetto recordings brought everyone's attention back to him.

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