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Andrew Hill: A Beautiful Day

Andrew Hill is finally gaining the recognition he deserves, and this new release strengthens the case for his singular talent. Still, he remains a difficult figure. No matter how much someone may like his music, there’s not much of it I can recommend to a listener who isn’t already hip to a fair amount of modern jazz, and even diehard Hill fans may remain baffled by some of his work, particularly his solo recordings. Very few of his tunes are simple, hummable affairs, and the long, unpredictable structures he favors are marked by unrelenting melodic and harmonic complexity.

Many critics, present writer included, voted for Hill’s Dusk as the best jazz CD of 2000, and A Beautiful Day deserves serious consideration this year. While perhaps not as consistently successful, it is even more ambitious, being a live recording of basically the same Point of Departure sextet heard on Dusk turned into a big band with the addition of 11 players. Of course, Hill’s writing is nothing like the elaborately wrought orchestrations of Maria Schneider, Toshiko Akiyoshi or others who have focused on big-band work, but it is far more than just the expanded small group arranging one might expect. Point of Departure’s multireedist Marty Ehrlich, tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy and trumpeter Ron Horton make significant contributions as soloists (and Horton’s arranging skills are showcased on the impressive “Divine Revelation”).

Hill’s early Blue Note recordings always seem to convey the same unique, deliciously anxious feeling, but here he utilizes a variety of moods and approaches, from the piano and big-band concerto heard on “New Pinnochio” to the fractured funk of “Divine Revelation” to “Faded Beauty,” a theme that has an almost frighteningly exaggerated prettiness reminiscent of the chorale in Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale.” The trumpet-alto dialog by Dave Ballou and John Savage near the end of the title track is another high point. Other pieces seem to begin in mid-flight, with thematic material being introduced as they progress.

Describing the sound of this impressive music is challenging; one might say that Hill has achieved a sort of synthesis of Ellington and Hindemith, or that Mingus’ large-scale works or Coltrane’s “Ascension” are occasionally evoked, but you really have to hear this music to get the idea. And that’s worth repeating: you really have to hear this music. It could just be that Hill’s recording career has entered an Indian summer that will prove just as rewarding as his classic mid-’60s spring.

Originally Published