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Andrew Hill: Judgement!

John Kelman By

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Recorded two months after Black Fire and two months before Point of Departure, Andrew Hill's Judgement!—finally receiving the Van Gelder remastering treatment—demonstrates just how prolific the envelope-pushing pianist was during the '60s. While prolific doesn't necessarily mean good, what is most remarkable about Hill's seemingly endless output on Blue Note between '63 and '69—strangely eluding the accolades he deserved at the time, but finally finding his audience in recent years—is how incredibly consistent it was.

Whether using larger ensembles on Point of Departure and Passing Ships, or smaller groups on Black Fire and Dance with Death, Hill's ability to skirt the edges of the avant-garde while remaining within a more mainstream context made his inability to reach audiences, who were soaking up records by Wayne Shorter and Bobby Hutcherson, all the more curious. Both were enjoying greater success while mining similar territory, at least some of the time.

Perhaps part of the problem was Hill's more idiosyncratic, serpentine, and at times jagged writing. As cerebral as Shorter was, with the possible exception of outré recordings like The All Seeing Eye and Super Nova, he was more concerned with harmonic density, always keeping a steady pulse underneath. While Hill also kept an eye on forward motion, he was also exploring irregular and shifting meters—characteristics likely disconcerting to a mainstream crowd—while his allegiance to form alienated devotees of the free jazz movement taking hold at the time.

In some ways this 1964 recording is Hill's most unconsidered session of the time. On this quartet date he placed Hutcherson's vibes, rather than a horn player, in the front line and used Richard Davis—his clear bassist of choice, appearing on seven sessions between '63 and '65. Drummer Elvin Jones had ended his six-year run with John Coltrane, rejecting Coltrane's total transition away from defined structure. Hill's distinguishing marks are all over the album's six compositions, but they're somehow more relaxed than usual. Perhaps it's simply a matter of texture—Hutcherson's vibes are a more ethereal foil to Hill's abstruse style—but even pieces like the irregular-metered "Siete Ocho" have an understated intensity.

There's something more open about the loose swing of "Flea Flop." Hill's accompaniment beneath Hutcherson's characteristically well-developed solo is less angular and more to the point. While his own solo finds his left hand in more oddly-placed counterpoint to the skewed rhythms of his right—all the while with Davis carefully filling in the blanks—it's only when Jones steps up for a solo that things really heat up. "Alfred" is a surprisingly tender ballad, although Davis' more interactive role keeps things from becoming too settled.

What makes every new Hill reissue from the '60s significant is how he managed to blend complex compositional ideas and oblique thematic constructs; left-of-centre, to be sure, but still in that centre's general vicinity. Perhaps he was ahead of his time, and his increased popularity these days indicates that his audience has finally caught up with him; in any case, Judgement! is a classic entry that's sure to please.


Track Listing: Siete Ocho; Flea Flop; Yokada, Yokada; Alfred; Judgement; Reconciliation; Yokada, Yokada (alternate take).

Personnel: Andrew Hill: piano; Bobby Hutcherson: vibes; Richard Davis: bass; Elvin Jones: drums.

Title: Judgement! | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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