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Originally released in 1969, Lift Every Voice was one of the last of Andrew Hill's early Blue Note sessions, and easily one of the most unorthodox. Featuring a jazz quintet augmented by a small choir, the album brings to mind some of Steve Lacy's work with Irene Aebi, or the vocal tracks on Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction, or in a way, even Dizzy Gillespie's 1963 album with the Double Six of Paris. The original five cuts feature Woody Shaw on trumpet, Carlos Garnett on tenor sax, Hill on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and Freddie Waits on drums. Hill was moving deeper into Blue Note's brand of soul-jazz by this point, but only he could make it sound like this. The choir chants and drones and shouts, often wordlessly, its earthy rhythmic punctuations meshing with the band in a kind of sci-fi boogaloo. (Not for nothing does the cover show Hill's head, with face fixed in a far-off stare, against a backdrop of stars and shining nebulae.) Hill is careful to keep the band in the forefront, however. Present mainly as an effect, the choir slips into silence for substantial intervals to give soloists and rhythm section the floor. Fans of Woody Shaw and Freddie Waits, in particular, won't be disappointed.
Like the 2000 reissue of 1968's Grassroots, this package includes not merely bonus tracks but a complete bonus session, from nearly a year later, never before released. Presumably Blue Note, or Hill himself, weighed the two finished products and went with the first. But unlike Grassroots, none of the six discarded tunes are repeats from the released session. They're entirely different, and so is the lineup: Lee Morgan on trumpet, Bennie Maupin on tenor saxophone, Hill on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Ben Riley on drums. Interestingly, while the choir (expanded from seven to nine pieces) is utilized in much the same way, the songs are generally not as abstruse and seem to issue from a more orderly part of Hill's mind. Bennie Maupin's presence is of enormous interest, for here he was blowing fabulous straight-ahead tenor (check out "Drew's Tune" and "Mother Mercy") several months after he participated in the making of Bitches Brew.
Leonard Feather speculates in his original liner notes, "What will [Hill] be doing in 1980 if he continues to evolve at his present pace?" We chuckle, because of course Hill continues to evolve and it's already 2001. His presence on the scene has been intermittent but is now on an upswing, and his writing and playing are as strong as ever. One hears echoes of Lift Every Voice in the cut-and-paste methodology and wild eclecticism of his new big band, which premiered at New York's Jazz Standard back in January and is rumored to be recording an album in the near future. When we hear the choir on "A Tender Tale" repeatedly intone back in 1970, "Let the new world begin now," we have the benefit of knowing that indeed Hill continued to create new worlds and still does. Imagine what he'll be doing in 2010.
Track Listing: 1. Hey Hey 2. Lift Every Voice 3. Two Lullabies 4. Love Chant 5. Ghetto Lights 6. Blue Spark 7. A Tender Tale 8. Drew's Tune 9. Mother Mercy 10. Natural Spirit 11. Such It Is
Personnel: Tracks 1-5: Woody Shaw, trumpet; Carlos Garnett, tenor saxophone; Andrew Hill, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Freddie Waits, drums; Lawrence Marshall, LaReine LaMar, Gail Nelson, Joan Johnson, Benjamin Franklin Carter, Antenett Goodman Ray, Ron Steward, voices
Tracks 6-11: Lee Morgan, trumpet; Bennie Maupin, tenor saxophone, flute, bass clarinet; Andrew Hill, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Ben Riley, drums; Lawrence Marshall, LaReine LaMar, Gail Nelson, Joan Johnson, Lillian Williams, Benjamin Franklin Carter, Hugh Harnell, Milt Grayson, Ron Steward, voices