"My name is Andrew Hillpianist." With humility characteristic of his long career in music, these words open Solos: The Jazz Sessions
. Hill's avant-garde contemporaries like Cecil Taylor
and Anthony Braxton
often pushed the boundaries of their music in directly experimental and mathematical ways and the affect is sometimes intentionally discordant. Hill's unique ability was to embrace melody even as he took it to the breaking point. His capacity to cast it off and reel it back in seamlessly was a gift. In Hill's unique creative process he danced his way inside and outside harmonies and despite comparisons to Thelonious Monk
his approach to composition was largely uninfluenced by others.
Hill's Solos: The Jazz Sessions
represents the audio version of a brilliant thirty-nine part Canadian television series produced by Daniel Berman from 2004-2006. Like all the series' episodes, Hill was recorded at the Berkeley Church in Toronto, Canada and his performance took place in the first year of the program. Berman staged these performances without host, narration or audience, purposefully letting the music speak for itself. That unique ambiencealong with pristine sound qualityhave resulted in a superior audio account of the event, almost ten years later.
Berman imposed no constraints on Hill's selections for this performance. The self-selected compositions on Solos: The Jazz Sessions
span decades of Hill's catalogue from "East 9th Street" Hommage
(441 Records, 1975) to "Smooth" from Time Lines
(Blue Note Records, 2006). The interpretations are fresh and his playing is as elegantly quirky as anything he did in his career. The eighteen-plus minute closing piece, "Tough Love" is warm and contemplative without sacrificing Hill's adventurous style of improvisation or his idiosyncratic cadenced approach to playing. Each of the four relatively lengthy pieces on Solos: The Jazz Sessions
is marked by Hill's unorthodoxly beautiful readings and his search for new ways to express the music.
By the time Hill was barely out of his teens, he had already caught the attention ofand worked withtrumpeter Miles Davis
. He went on to record one of the most highly regarded albums in jazzPoint Of Departure
(Blue Note Records, 1964)with reed players Eric Dolphy
and Joe Henderson
. Hill's resurgence in the '80s produced some of his most inventive and daring work and he continued to compose and perform in that spirit into the new millennium. Despite his accomplishments, Hill spent most of his career without achieving the wide public recognition that he enjoyed inside jazz. None of which seemed to dampened Hill's enthusiasm for creating and sharing. He taught in prisons and he taught at Harvard exercising the same democratic principles that he applied to the colleagues he played and recorded with. It's not likely that a hidden vault of unreleased recordings will surface in the aftermath of Hill's career but that should not be the motivation to make space for Solos: The Jazz Sessions
. The reason this recording belongs in any collection is that it dramatically moves borders without ignoring the past and is truly unlike anything that fits neatly into a category. Hill's Solos: The Jazz Sessions
has left us with a fitting and beautiful eulogy, free of ego and full of creative energy.