At the venerable age of 68, Andrew Hill has made an album which is as lithe, fearless, exhilarating, luminous, exploratory, at-the-barricades and immortal as anything he's ever recorded, including his signature 1964 masterpiece, Point Of Departure.
It's an extraordinary achievement. It's hard to think of more than half a dozen artists over 65 who've defied chronology and creeping conservatism to the same degree, harder still to find any pushing 70. Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band's Monk And Powell, made when Motian was 67? Perhaps, but some might say the repertory material disqualifies it. Charlie Haden and Carla Bley's Not In Our Name, made with the Liberation Music Orchestra when Haden was 68 and Bley 67? Maybe, but it's more politically than musically radical. Cecil Taylor's The Willisau Concert, made when Taylor was 70? Certainly.
On Time Lines, made with his regular gigging quartet augmented by trumpeter Charles Tolliver, Hill remains as playful and inquisitive as a child, and as impatient with prevailing orthodoxies as a twentysomething. Daring recalibrations of metre and tempo continue to be the heartbeat of his music. Whether on the tricky 11/8 metre of "Time Lines," the to-and-forth 5/4 - 4/4 shifts of "Ry Round 2," the dislocated rondo form of "Smooth," or within his own teasing, probing, insistent solos, Hill continues to treat bar lines with thrilling indifference. His idiosyncratic take on lyricism is intact too, sometimes dissonant and percussive, sometimes mellifluous and flowing, but always hummable and always instantly recognisable.
The musicians are out of the ordinary, timetravellers and rebel melodicists each and all. Hill's onetime colleague and near-contemporary, Charles Tolliver, is the most straight-ahead of the bunch, the keeper of the hard bop flame, but even he's sufficiently his own man to keep you guessing. John Herbert and Eric McPherson are as agile and off-kilter as Hill needs the engine room to be. (Herbert's fractured ostinatos are a thing of wonder throughout the album.) Greg Tardy, a rough and booting tenor saxophonist when he wants to be (check "Time Lines" and "Kil'ner"), sticks mainly to the clarinet and bass clarinet, and his astringent melodicism stands head-high with that of Eric Dolphy and Bennie Maupin in lineups before him.
When Blue Note released the lost-and-found tapes of Hill's Passing Ships in 2003, The New York Times quipped: "The best jazz album of 2003 was recorded in 1969." With Time Lines, Hill has another certainty for the history books.
Personnel: Andrew Hill: piano; Charles Tolliver: trumpet; Greg Tardy: tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; John Herbert: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.