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by Buck Hill
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Catch Buck Live
In Celebration Of His New CD Relax (Severn Records)
August 21st Blues Alley
1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007
Tel: (202) 337-4141
http://www.bluesalley.com/ Buck Hill
Severn Records 0039
Relax, the first recording as a leader by the legendary tenor saxophonist Buck Hill in nearly fifteen years, marks the reemergence of one of America's greatest national treasures onto the international jazz scene. As he approaches his 80th birthday Hill remains a vital voice on his instrument, with a robust personal sound that reaches back to the horn's early masters, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, and onward into the glory days of bebop and beyond, recalling the powerful playing of Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.
A lifelong resident of Washington, D.C., Hill first studied music with the same teacher who instructed a young Duke Ellington, and went on to become a member of the house band in the city's world famous Howard Theater. A fixture on the capitol jazz scene for over sixty years Hill revealed his enormous talent to the world beginning in the late seventies with a series of excellent records for Steeplechase and Muse. Guest appearance on several of fellow D.C. legend Shirley Horn's cds brought him wider spread critical and popular notice in the '90's before he once again returned to the relative anonymity of his hometown.
On Relax, Hill's very first date leading his own organ combo (he recorded as a sideman with the great Shirley Scott ten years ago), he proves that he's still one of the best tenor men in jazz today. The group, featuring his regular bandmates John Ozment at the Hammond organ and Jerry Jones on drums, plus Paul Pieper on guitar, offers up some smooth and smoking straight ahead jazz on an eight song program split evenly between the leader's own original compositions and classic jazz material, including three Miles Davis compositions and one standard.
The opening R.H." is a bebopping burner by Buck, the title of which cryptically acknowledges the composer's rarely noted given name - Roger. Tenor and guitar execute the repetitive melody in unison on the head before Hill charges forward with a solo that shows that the old man" can still play with all the fire and verve of his youth. Pieper and Ozment follow with their own statements before the leader returns to trade fours with Jones before the band takes it out.
The appropriately titled Relax" is another appealing line by Hill. Introduced by the trio, Hill enters with a soulful swagger that summons memories of Stanley Turrentine's sound. Ozment is up first as Jones settles into a swinging shuffle that sets the soothing pace along with Pieper's tasteful comping. Hill's laid back but robust tenor solo is a model of his mastery of the blues idiom. Pieper's solo shows his assimilation of the classic stylings of Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell. An abrupt vocal invocation of the song's title ends the track with a humorous surprise.
Hill, who appeared on Shirley Horn's memorable I Remember Miles cd, once again memorializes the iconic trumpeter on this date, with his own personal interpretations of three Davis classics. The rarely heard Flamenco Sketches serves as a moving vehicle for the softer side of Hill's tenor saxophone as he blows mellow over the gentle accompaniment of Ozment and Pieper, each of whom also solos with a delicate touch as Jones dynamically navigates the piece's shifting rhythms.
The final Davis composition of the date is the first of two compositions recorded by the trumpeter under the title Milestones." Initially heard on Davis's debut date as a leader, with Charlie Parker on tenor, legend has it that the piece was actually written for Davis by the session's pianist, John Lewis. The delightfully intricate melody, not heard nearly as often as the later, more popular title track to the Davis Milestones album, is flawlessly executed by the quartet with swinging solos by Hill and Pieper.
The date ends with another revival of a Hill original from his Scope record. The Sad Ones," a poignant piece of uncommon beauty, is brilliantly delivered by the tenor saxophonist, whose extended solo abounds with both elegance and sophistication to touchingly close this most rewarding cd.
The return of Buck Hill to the world of jazz recording is indeed a momentous occasion and cause for celebration. Hill plays the tenor with the authoritative voice of experience. His well seasoned sound is a link to the saxophone's glorious past and a lesson to those who wish to move the horn into the future. As he nears eighty he still has much to offer. Relax may very well be Hill's best effort yet, a true testament not just to his longevity, but also to his continued growth as a master saxophonist, bandleader and composer.