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With the recent spate of deaths hitting the jazz community as hard as they have, you have to be even more grateful that guys like Andrew Hill are still around. And not only is Hill alive and kicking but he's still writing and playing with a vitality and freshness that continue to be his own exclusive property. Dusk proves to be a precious new chapter in Hill's discography, coming some ten years after his last two reunion efforts for Blue Note.
As an outgrowth of the recent formation of Hill's Point of Departure ensemble, Dusk does share some familiarities with the classic 1964 Blue Note album that gave the group its name, chiefly the instrumentation, which includes a front line of trumpet, alto sax, and tenor sax. But as a product of the new century, this up-to-the-minute endeavor packs its collective punch in a contemporary packaging that takes advantage of its indispensable contributors. The most vital element here is the anchoring provided by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Billy Drummond. As valuable as Richard Davis and Tony Williams were to Point of Departure, Colley and Drummond interact with Hill in a similar musical dialogue that is characteristic of true jazz improvisation of the highest order.
Hill's music is not for the weak at heart, as each composition is likely to offer its own set of challenges. For example, the speedy bass ostinato that propels the odd-metered '15/8' would trip up all but the most proficient technicians, yet it proves to be no obstacle for this ensemble. Greg Tardy makes strong statements on the title track and 'Sept,' where his fluid playing is marked by high register forays that make Joe Lovano an obvious influence. A tribute to the late Thomas Chapin, 'T.C.,' features warm and seductive bass clarinets as a strong lead voice, while the catchy 'Ball Square' works through several grooves including a melody line that seems to be borrowed from McCoy Tyner's 'Blues on the Corner.'
Rounding out a sundry and idiosyncratic set, you'll want to savor the solo piano tracks, 'Tough Love' and the brief 'Focus.' Both contain the type of dark lyricism that makes Hill a pianist in a class by himself. He may have not yet reached the level of historical reverence that has belatedly come for Thelonious Monk, but Hill is guaranteed to be looked upon as one of this music's most original artists, a point readily ascertained by a few concentrated exposures to this marvelous effort.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.