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January/February 1999

Tyrone Hill Quartet featuring Marshall Allen
Out of the Box
CIMP Recordings

Like many who grew up with free jazz, I was crazy about Sun Ra in the '60s but lost interest in trying to follow every new release around the time of Space Is the Place. Thus I am far more familiar with Allen than Hill, but it has taken hearing him out of the Arkestral context to make me realize how spectacularly underrated the altoist is. The John Gilmore story is old news, and Gilmore recorded in enough "straight" contexts to have at least a modest reputation at large. His counterpart has meanwhile been overlooked, but Marshall Allen is as strong a voice as Ornette, Jimmy Lyons, or any first wave free jazz altoist. Leader Hill is a wonderful front-line partner, with a confident full-toned delivery that makes you think of great swing trombonists like Wells, Nanton or even Higginbotham. His earthy humor fits well with the mood; playfulness was ever a strong Arkestra suit.

The spirit of Sun Ra is evoked in other ways, as well. In fact it's uncanny how far the two horns go towards sounding like the whole horn section in manic fight when they take off. Drummer Samarai Celestial is great at creating and sustaining drama, and Jason Aottel has a big bass sound and a predilection for the unexpected. Both are good listeners.

The program ranges from tunes recorded with Ra to a knocked-out 3/4 "Lush Life". This may be the first hour-plus CD I have heard that had me hungry for more when it ended.

Originally published in January/February 1999
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