Andrew Hill Mosaic Select 23: Andrew Hill - Solo Mosaic Records
In many ways 2006 could be considered the year of pianist Andrew Hill. He's renewed his association with Blue Note Records, where he got his start in the 1960s and on which he released a body of work which is only now being fully and properly appreciated. This year's Blue Note album, Time Lines, represents another pinnacle in a career filled with high points. The album combines free-wheeling improvisation in a small group setting with characteristically idiosyncratic writing, sometimes so complex that it's a challenge to find the structure that is ever-present in Hill's work.
Hill has also been the subject of one of the most innovative tribute albums ever released, guitarist Nels Cline's New Monastery: A View into the Music of Andrew Hill (Cryptogramophone, 2006). While the intrepid Cline is never less than completely respectful of Hill's compositional constructs, through an unorthodox instrumental ensemble and his own richly developed voice he manages to take compositions that are as much as four decades old and demonstrate their continued relevance today.
While Hill has released the occasional solo piano album over the years, including Hommage (Test of Time, 2005)an album originally released in Japan in the 1970she's always been considered more of an ensemble player and writer. Albums including Black Fire (Blue Note, 1963) and Point Of Departure (Blue Note, 1964) are but two of many ensemble works that have since become classics. But Mosaic Select 23: Andrew Hill - Solo makes a strong case for Hill as an equally significant solo artist. Few other players, including Keith Jarrett, have been able successfully to release multi-hour sets of solo piano. This new box proves that, while there are more differences than similarities shared with Jarrett, Hill could easily have pursued a more active career as a soloist, had he so desired.
Mosaic Select 23 brings together three sessions recorded in August and October, 1978. Of the nearly three hours of musicall original material with the exception of brief looks at Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford and the Wrubel/Magidson standard "Gone With The Wind only two pieces have been released previously. "From California With Love and "Reverend Du Bop, which open the third disc of this three-CD set, were released on the audiophile Artist House label in 1979 as From California With Love, but this is their first appearance on CD. And while the original tapes for these two tracks were lost and appear here courtesy of a vinyl transfer, Malcolm Addey's marvelous 24-bit digital mastering is so good that one would be hard pressed to hear a difference between these two tracks and the rest of the material in the box, which does come from the original master tapes.
If three hours of solo piano begs comparison to Jarrett, then perhaps the single most important differentiator is the very immediate sense of history in Hill's playing. There's a more inherent jazz-centricity to Hill that Jarrettequally disposed to atonal classicism as he is his jazz rootsoften lacks. While Paul Bley was a clear precedent for Jarrett's stream-of-consciousness approach to free improvisation, Hill's roots in Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Art Tatum are in clear evidence on lengthy explorations like "California Tinge.
Still, Hill is no stranger to classical music, and while "Above Big Sur references his jazz roots, it's equally reflective of a certain abstract classicism, albeit delivered with a more forceful touch and resolved intent.
Hill is also a more idiosyncratic playereven more so than Monk. But what's surprising about much of Mosaic Select 23 is how warm, tender and even lyrical he can be. Hill's ensemble work has always demonstrated deep thinking, where knotty constructs and distinctive voicings challenge the listener's preconceptions. But while his loose extemporizing on "Napa Valley Twilight is as characteristically unconventional as anything he's ever done, it's also eminently more accessible. As potent as Jarrett the solo pianist can be, there's always a pervasive sense of self absorption that can sometimes be profound, but is at other times simply cloying. Hill's playing is more inherently selfless. The same sense of discovery is there, but if Jarrett considers himself a conduit for the music, Hill more faithfully represents that same philosophy.
Life experiences are inevitably represented in one's art. Hill and his wife Laverne relocated from New York to the small Bay Area community of Pittsburg in 1976 when she was diagnosed as terminally ill. Being away from the urban hustle and bustle of New York results in a gentler Hill, coupled with an undeniable melancholy and, on occasion, brooding darknessresulting, no doubt, from dealing with his wife's illness.
Two takes each of "Moonlit Monterey and "California Tinge with considerably different lengthsillustrate that while Hill may be at his most open-minded in this solo setting he's still thinking compositionally. Hill would release other solo recordings including Faces of Hope (Soul Note, 1980) and Verona Rag (Soul Note, 1986), but Mosaic Select 23: Andrew Hill - Solo represents a very specific period in Hill's life. At these three sessions in 1978 Hill created some of his most approachable music without compromising any of the recondite qualities that would define him and, in recent years, finally garner him the attention that eluded him during the majority of his career. These three hours of solo piano music further flesh out a musical personality already rich and varied, and demonstrate a welcome and heretofore unheard side of this iconic artist.
Tracks: Moonlit Monterey; 17 Mile Drive; Gone With The Wind; I Remember Clifford; Moonlit Monterey (alternate take).
Tracks: California Tinge; Napa Valley Twilight; Above Big Sur; An Afternoon In Berkeley; Calfornia Tinge (first version).
Tracks: From California With Love; Reverend Du Bop; Pastoral Pittsburg; Pittsburg Impasse.
Personnel (all discs): Andrew Hill: piano.