One of the most mindless quirks of some jazz listeners is major label prejudice. Take for example those vaguely familiar with pianist Andrew Hill's albums Blue Black and Nefertiti, both recorded for the semi-obscure East Wind label, an imprint only in existence from 1974-77. If you have most of Hill's Blue Note albums and some of his more recent output and feel that is most of what is worth hearing, are you ever wrong. These albums are stunning. They can almost be considered companion pieces, each different enough in its own right to justify owning the pair.
The first one, Blue Black, is a quartet with Jimmy Vass (alto, soprano and flute). Conventionally more swinging for Hill, it at times foreshadows his late '80s Blue Note recordings. While the rhythm section is less adventurous than others he's had, they're strong, creative, very cohesive and quite at ease with the composer's music. In turn, he uses them as a springboard to launch some wonderfully audacious solos, never seeming to feel the need to hold back to make sure everyone's on the same page. This atmosphere illuminates to great effect Hill's uncanny relationship with time. Few musicians play such complex rhythms while sounding so naturally effortless. The strongest title, Remnants , is an incredibly brisk piece built on a 12-note phrase that pops up from time to time. It consists of Hill and Vass conversing with drummer Leroy Williams in alternating solos of various lengths. The only complaint is the nasal quality of Chris White's bass tone. This is a flaw shared with the other CD, lending strength to the theory that the secrets of recording bass were lost in the '70s and not found again for ten years.
Nefertiti is a trio done two years later (almost to the day). It has Roger Blank (drums) and Hill's most frequent bassist, Richard Davis. It starts out with the song "Blue Black , oddly enough nothing to do with the title cut of the other disc, Hill starting with a simple figure based on a scale. After about six and a half minutes, just when you think he's wrung all he can out of it, the rhythm section comes in, hard. On this and every other piece, the band plays together with stunning creativity and empathy. Hill has great energy throughout and a beautifully fat, full tone. Other high points include Davis' gorgeously imaginative arco work on the title cut and Blank's anomalous drum pattern on "Mudflower . Both these albums are not only highly entertaining, but continue to fascinate with repeated listenings.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Golden Spook; Mist Flower; Remnants; Blue Black; One For.
Personnel: Andrew Hill: piano; Jimmy Vass: Soprano and Alto Saxophone, Flute; Chris White: bass; Leroy Williams: drums.
Tracks: Blue Black; Relativity; Nefertiti; Hattie; Mudflower; Unnatural Man.
Personnel: Andrew Hill, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Roger Blank, drums.