Thursday, June 15, 2006

Andrew Hill - Time Lines

Time Lines
(Blue Note)

Alfred Lion, the founder of Blue Note Records, regarded pianist Andrew Hill as a creative voice in the same league as Thelonious Monk. The label signed Hill in the early 1960s and released several of his albums throughout that decade, but his work wasn’t funky enough for hard bop fans, nor was it “out” enough to merit a connection with the free jazz movement, so Hill was overlooked by all but the faithful. Time has a way of changing things. Today, the pianist’s work is highly regarded and his entire Blue Note output, including several sessions that sat in the vaults for decades, are all available.

Time Lines marks Hill’s third association with the label (following a brief return during the label’s rejuvenation in the late ‘80s). It features his working quartet — Hill, Greg Tardy (reeds), John Hebert (bass), Eric McPherson (drums) — along with trumpeter Charles Tolliver, who hasn’t played with Hill for over 30 years. The eight tracks prove that Hill still plays with a signature approach to melody and rhythm. Much of the music avoids a set tempo, relying instead on McPherson’s pulse that moves parallel to Hebert’s bass textures. Tardy alternates between tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, giving each piece a different color.

Two compositions appear twice, but each provides a different look at the music rather than merely serving as alternate takes. The quintet opens the album with “Malachi” while Hill closes the album playing it alone. Dedicated to the late bassist Malachi Favors, of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, it pays homage and it simultaneously sounds uplifting as it unfolds. Two versions of “Ry Round” have slightly different sections and time signatures to fuel the improvisation. The theme of the title track appears to be based on a simple line of just a few notes, but the musicians develop that simple framework into a rich set of solos. In a few songs, Tolliver lapses into a similar pattern, shooting a burst of staccato notes, but he fit into the mood of the piece rather than sounding repetitive.

Nearly 70 years old, and recently diagnosed with lung cancer, Hill never let external factors impact the way he played music and albums like Time Lines prove that his commitment was worth the effort.

(This review was submitted to a local paper but since it hasn't run in the nearly 2 months since submission, I thought it would be a good start to my online reviews. More will come soon. By the way, I'm listening to Hank Mobley's self-titled album now. Not to be confused with his album called Hank.

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