The wealth of jazz recordings originally released only in Japan, especially during the '70s, has long been a source of angst for collectors, especially given that for many yearsoutside of the occasional store prepared to bring in these expensive importsthey were virtually unobtainable in North America. Of course, with the advent of the internet, it has become much easier, albeit no less expensive, to obtain such recordings. The good news is that, while there is still a surprising number of albums being released strictly to Japanese audiences, many of the archival recordings from years past are finally seeing the light of day in North Americaand often for the first time on CD, period.
And so kudos is due to 441 Records' fledgling subsidiary, Test of Time Records, which has acquired the rights to over thirty recordings from the Japanese East Wind Masterpiece Collection line. Over the coming months a number of exciting releases from artists including Sheila Jordan, Art Farmer, and the Great Jazz Trio will be made available to American audiences for the first time. And that's great news.
The first release is a long-lost outing from pianist Andrew Hill. Hommage was, in fact, Hill's first solo recording, and it demonstrates, even stripped bare, the kind of complex harmonies and rhythms characteristic of Hill's work for larger ensembles. On six original compositions and one standardEllington's "Sophisticated Lady Hill's somewhat idiosyncratic and cerebral approach is on full display.
But what is also clear is Hill's broad range of musical influences. "Vision, while clearly coming from a jazz sensibility, is also the result of an artist who has spent considerable time with 20th Century classical composers like Hindemith, with whom Hill studied in the early '50s. And while Hill seemed to get lost in the shuffle of free jazz artists like Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor in the '60s, pieces like "Naked Spirit reportedly recorded in complete darkness, allowing Hill's fingers to be guided by intuition and spirit rather than sight and formretrospectively demonstrate just how important Hill was to a more liberated approach. Still, as opposed to the more aggressive stance of Taylor, Hill exhibits a broader range of colours, an inherently more supple approach, and perhaps a greater rooting in earlier pianists like Tatumalbeit twisted in strange new directions.
And in the looser context of a solo session, Hill is freed to explore in a more stream-of-consciousness mode. "Rambling may seem aptly titled, as it gives the initial appearance of pure spontaneity and unconsidered invention; but even in a purely free context as this Hill's inner logic is at work, providing a curious sense of form to an otherwise unfettered exploration.
The DSD technology used to transfer the master tapes to compact disc form has created a vivid sound that brings Hill's pieces into clear focus. Hommage, aside from being an important Hill release, signifies the start of a new series that should make jazz fans around the world very happy indeed.
Visit Andrew Hill on the web.