Hill's "Dance With Death" Is A Lively Set!
why this 1968 recording, a new "Tone Poet" series release, sat on the shelf until 1980 is a mystery
No one knows why this Andrew Hill album recorded October 11th 1968 wasn’t released until 1980 as part of a Michael Cuscuna produced series. “Tone Poet” Joe Harley doesn’t know, nor, he told me, does Cuscuna. Harley posits a few possible reasons, none of which have anything to do with the music here, which in 1968 clearly was release-worthy.
The vinyl revival/resurgence whatever you wish to call it has been a boon to artists like the late composer/performer/academic Andrew Hill whose thoughtful works didn’t grab the attention spotlight like some of his more flamboyant fellow Blue Note musicians.
The Tone Poet reissue of Hill’s intriguing unusually scored Passing Ships—which took even longer to be released than this record (it was recorded in 1969 and not released until 2003)—brought him well-deserved acclaim from the younger vinyl-buying jazz audience.
The Mosaic box set The Complete Blue Note Andrew Hill Sessions (1963-66) brought him to my attention, as with today’s buyers, in part because it was a vinyl set.
Everything here simmers, nothing boils. Joining Hill are Charles Tolliver on trumpet, Joe Farrell on tenor and soprano sax, Victor Sproles on bass and Billy Higgins on drums, often hitting his stick on a rim that sounds about a two feet closer to the mic than the rest of his kit, or much of the time sounding like it’s live in your room.
The opener “Yellow Violet” begins with a Tolliver and Farrell doubling series of deep conversational lines left and right channel that feels like Hill is engaging in conversation with the listener. You almost want to answer “yea, I feel that way too!”
The piano is mixed down relative to the duo and to Higgins as well whose right channel snare work is busy but perfectly placed. Hill’s work is mostly supportive, taking rhythmic octave leaps with a well placed solo in between. The track abruptly ends almost as if Rudy ran out of tape.
Hill grabs the spotlight on “Partitions” until well into it Tolliver takes it. Higgins turns it into a waltz, Farrell moves in. Higgins takes a short machine gun solo. Tolliver and Farrell take lockstep runs to end the tune. The more I listen the more I can’t figure out why this sat on the shelf for so long!
Sproules gets more to say on side two’s title tune opener, which felt like a cross between “Song For My Father” and “Bitches Brew”, equally mysterious as the latter, but sounding more dangerous. Again the Tolliver—Farrell interplay mesmerizes. The tune ends with a weird fade.
Ozzy Osbourne’s solo on Black Sabbath…just kidding. The frantic record ending tune has Tolliver working out at a fevered pace, to my ears slipping into a “A Love Supreme” quote. Farrell too seems to fall under the Coltrane influence and even Hill does some block chording before taking a more “Hillian” solo. Higgins’s solo shot towards the end is energy charged and leads the two horns to an exciting conclusion.
Rudy’s sonic approach is appropriately fast and direct, with only minor added reverb. Hill’s piano sound is satisfyingly dark, with well-defined transients and none of the all too often midrange “Rudy bloat”. And if you like the sound of rim shots happening live in your room (it’s a sound I can’t get enough of), Higgins delivers plenty.
This is a great record! Even the newly created cover is ideal: as understated and “in the pocket” as Hill’s music is here (there was a French release in 2013 on the “Heavenly Sweetness” label using a difference cover). Flawless pressing as well. Hill’s “dance with death” came April 20th 2007. He was 75.