Acoustic Sounds

Ron Horton

A Prayer for Andrew

Music

Sound

A Prayer For Andrew

Produced By: Elan Mehler, J.C. Morrisseau

Engineered By: Max Ross

Mixed By: Michael Marciano

Mastered By: Marc Urselli

Lacquers Cut By: Josh Bonati

By: Fred Kaplan

January 31st, 2024

Genre:

Jazz

Format:

Vinyl

Andrew Hill's Music Made Fresh and New

Ron Horton's wondrous double-LP is much more than a "tribute album"

Andrew Hill was one of the most remarkable jazz pianist-composers, a rare true original. His music is ripe with strange intervals, dissonant harmonies, and off-centered rhythms, yet the resulting sounds are riveting, often gorgeous. Imagine the lush tonal colors of Gil Evans, combined with the fierce cadences of Mingus and the jagged precision of Monk, and you get some idea of his music’s odd pleasures. Hill led a dozen recording sessions for Blue Note in the mid-to-late 1960s, when the label was making inroads in free jazz. None of the resulting albums sold well at the time (five of them weren’t released until years, even decades, later), but some—notably Black Fire, Point of Departure, and the long-lost Passing Ships—are now widely hailed as classics (and, in their most recent Blue Note vinyl reissues, audiophile classics as well).

 There is no musician more deeply immersed in Hill’s music, or more keenly attuned to interpreting its strands and subtleties, than the trumpeter-composer-arranger Ron Horton. So, it is a treasure to have A Prayer for Andrew—Horton’s tribute album to Hill, recorded with a stellar sextet back in 2016—finally available as a double-LP and in such splendid sound to boot.

Back in the early 1990s, Horton was a founding member of the Jazz Composers Collective, an assortment of like-minded New York musicians in their late 20s to mid 30s who—transcending the sharp divide between the “uptown” traditionalists and “downtown” avant-gardists—sought inspiration in the works of lesser-known innovators from the past. Herbie Nichols was one neglected master whose works they tapped. Andrew Hill was another.

Nichols was a nearly forgotten figure at the time: he had died in 1963, and the four albums he made in the late ‘50s, three of them for Blue Note, had long passed into obscurity. But reams of his handwritten sheet music lay buried in the Library of Congress. Horton was one of the Collective’s members—bassist Ben Allison, pianist Frank Kimbrough, and reedman Ted Nash were others—who unearthed, deciphered, and arranged them (most of them had never been recorded), then laid them down on three albums as the Herbie Nichols Project. (Sneak peak: A new Allison-Nash album of Nichols tunes is coming out in February. I’ll review it soon.)

Andrew Hill was still alive but inactive around this time, teaching on the West Coast, his albums out of print and hard to find. Horton and Kimbrough grew obsessed with Hill’s music (Hill, along with Paul Bley, was among Kimbrough’s chief stylistic influences), sought out his LPs in used-record stores, listened to them incessantly, and transcribed them the best they could. They struck up a correspondence with Hill and sent him their transcriptions. (Hill had lost many of his own written copies.) When Hill moved back to New York in the late ‘90s, Horton joined his sextet, played on some of his albums, and arranged some of his pieces for a big band, which he served as music director. (Hill remained active on the jazz scene until he died in 2007 at the age of 75.)

In other words, A Prayer for Andrew is not your typical tribute album, where some young player davens to a distant god. The music here—seven Hill pieces and six originals that capture some spirit of Hill—is Horton’s music. It’s in his bones. This is as much an Andrew Hill album as any album fronted by Hill himself.

Horton blows the trumpet and flugelhorn with a crisp, plaintive tone and an understated virtuosity. The other bandmembers are equally well suited to this music. They include pianist Frank Kimbrough (who died three years after this was made—it’s so good to hear him brought back to life by the miracle of recording, and playing this music), reedman Marty Ehrlich (who also played with Hill), drummer Tim Horner (who co-led a Hill tribute band with Horton and Kimbrough from 2009-16), as well as two seasoned players, tenor saxman Marc Mommaas and Dean Johnson, who have played with Horton before.

As individual players and as an ensemble, this band is topnotch.

The album is released on Newvelle Records, and therein lies a story. The label’s proprietor, Elan Mehler, recalls in his liner notes that Horton, an old friend, asked if he’d like to hear the tapes from this session. Mehler said he’d love to, but warned Horton that he never releases music that he hadn’t been involved in recording himself. “But,” Mehler writes in his notes, “after a couple of minutes listening to the mixes I was transfixed.” Of course he would make an exception for this.

The sound quality is superb. All the instruments are clear, full-bodied, dynamic, tonally true, the overtones in blossom.

The album is also available for $10.00 as a FLAC resolution digital download (which I haven't heard) but not a compact disc.

Music Specifications

Label: Newvelle Records

Catalog No: NV035

Pressing Plant: Gotta Groove Records

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Multi LP

Comments

  • 2024-01-31 07:54:05 PM

    Robert Moon wrote:

    Thank you, Fred! Is this album digitally sourced as all Newvelle? I stopped buying their records because of the poor quality control. Maybe Gotta Groove does the trick. They pressed such a great record for the latest Jerome Sabbagh's album.

    • 2024-02-01 02:03:36 AM

      Come on wrote:

      To my knowledge all of their records are digitally sourced. I have a few of them and I think this is audible, but there’s nice music.

    • 2024-02-01 02:09:26 AM

      Come on wrote:

      That’s what they say on their website:

      “The medium of the recording is Pro Tools HDX with the latest HDX converters and we never record less than 24bit 88.2kHz. For mixdown I use uniquely the analog console, which is fully automated and digitally recallable so that we have the best of both worlds available: analog sound and digital automation and recall. This means we can save the mixdown files and moves of a mix but the sound is never converted to digital within the mixing console, which also serves as the summing. I use an analog spring reverb and on occasion a Lexicon 480 reverb. At no point do we use digital in-the-box summing.”

      “The mastering is helmed by Alex DeTurk of Masterdisk in New York, who takes my high resolution 24bit 88.2kHz mixes and runs them through his signal chain to cut the lacquer for the pressing plant.” –Marc Urselli

  • 2024-01-31 10:30:59 PM

    bill schweitzer wrote:

    Wow. thanks for the 411. is this mail order only?

  • 2024-02-01 12:10:15 AM

    bwb wrote:

    Am I the only one who thinks $90 ($85 + $5 shipping) is bit steep for a double LP?

    • 2024-02-01 01:31:09 AM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      oh, absolutely. not to criticize newvelle, but $90 for any brand new LP in fairly standard packaging is... definitely a bit much, no matter how it's done. i expect a lot at that price. if newvelle can succeed at that price point, then good for them, but these high-end pricing trends also worry me when it happens on a broader scale (like in 2022 when the major labels jacked up the prices of their catalog titles - beatles records went from $25 to $35 within weeks). not attacking anyone, just stating my personal opinion.

      • 2024-02-01 02:06:11 AM

        Come on wrote:

        Correct, definitely too expensive in my opinion for digitally recorded music on vinyl, but very nice, oversized covers.

  • 2024-02-01 12:34:37 PM

    Michael Fremer wrote:

    There's now a link in the review where you can download for $10 a FLAC resolution file.

  • 2024-02-01 04:42:01 PM

    Mark Ward wrote:

    Thanks so much for this. Hill is one of those artists whom I've long meant to investigate, but never got around to doing so seriously. Currently listening to this album on Tidal, and it is indeed wonderful, so I will be purchasing. My Newvelle 4LP New Orleans set is rarely far from my turntable, and I suspect this is going to join it.

  • 2024-02-02 08:51:33 AM

    Elan Mehler wrote:

    First of all, thank you Fred for such a lovely review and for spending time with this record. I should know better than to wade into one of these discussions, but its hard for me to let this one go. My name is Elan Mehler, I run Newvelle Records. The charge of “poor quality control” is a hard one to swallow and points towards a basic misunderstanding. We started our company in Europe and pressed with MPO out of France, we have since switched to QRP and most recently GottaGroove records. We chose these plants based on their reputation for quality, which is, frankly, the only criteria one has. We QC very carefully (like, really, really carefully) each step of the process, once the test pressings are approved the record gets pressed (often only 500 copies!). The plant has a QC process for the actual pressings, I can’t open each one and listen to them at home. This is the nature of the business. If you get a “bad” pressing the only thing the label can do is offer good customer service, which we pride ourselves on.

    Sorry for the rant, but it is nice, very nice in fact, to read such a lovely thoughtful review from a publication and a writer I respect that honors this recording and then to immediately have a comment about our “poor quality control” which literally isn’t a thing, is damn frustrating. Also, agreed about Jerome’s recording, its beautiful, pressed at Gottagroove, at least partially, on my recommendation. Same QC process of course.

    This record by Ron, (which in my admittedly biased opinion is one of the greatest records of the last decade) is available not only in a premium double LP package but also streaming or for digital download everywhere. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but Ron’s record spent 8 years without any distribution at all! We lovers of music, need to support places that grow and care for the music and not let it become the factory mush that so much of this industry is trending towards.

  • 2024-02-02 08:52:02 AM

    Elan Mehler wrote:

    Now that I’m here, might as well fully rant… As for the sourcing, yes the records are not recorded on tape. When I started this label with JC Morisseau, I told him that the best studio and engineer I had ever worked with was Marc Urselli at East Side Sound. I went to Marc to propose working together on the label and we agreed that we would rent tape machines and record everything in a single room at East Side. A couple of weeks into the logistics, Marc said to me “Why don’t you let me make the best recordings I know how to make?” This seemed like something we should try. Since then we’ve recorded about 45 records that have gotten absolutely stellar reviews and won awards (recording of the year, recording of the month etc.) from every audiophile publication that I know: Stereophile, Hi-Fi+, Tracking Angle, Audiophile Audition, Audio Beat, Analogplanet…. To my knowledge, have never gotten a review with anything but stellar things to say about our sound (see above). So if you don’t trust these guys, I’m not sure what these sites are for. If you only want to hear AAA albums, I understand. These records would not be for you then.

    Lastly, on the price. The concept with Newvelle, was to cut no corners at all. Best possible package for the sounds in every way I could think of. The musicians get paid UPFRONT, not an advance (this is unheard of). If we can find a dedicated audience that likes what we make and wants to support the continued creation and presentation of music at this level, then we can continue to make records. We press between 500-1500 of these. Could we press more records and charge less? Perhaps! Please, and I mean this quite honestly and not snarkily, try it! The music needs you! When we started, we left 100% digital rights to the music with the musicians, (again a completely new model) they only had to wait for two years before releasing themselves in whatever format they wanted. Since so much of the music was not coming out, we now offer an optional profit split on digital music we release (which is a whole other headache). OK….rant over.

  • 2024-02-19 10:13:22 AM

    bwb wrote:

    on sale as of today 2 Feb 24 thru Sunday