Andrew Hill Jazzpar Octet +1: The Day the World Stood Still

When Rossini was asked for his opinion of Wagner, he replied, “Wagner has some beautiful moments, but many boring hours.” At first hearing Andrew Hill’s latest, recorded because he won the Jazzpar Prize, I was tempted to be equally flip about the CD. But there’s an inherent danger in commenting on first hearings, particularly when there’s so much going on in the music. There is always a gap between innovation and acceptance. Think about the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” Fistfights broke out at the Paris concert hall; today its language sounds pretty tame. The language of this recording is so highly personal, so mystical, it requires careful, repeated listening until the fog lifts. Besides, you can’t ignore anything created by a talent as compelling as Andrew Hill. Along with him on piano there are seven instrumentalists; the plus is singer Lenora Zenzalai Helm who contributes a memorable vocal on “Brother.”

The three-note “head” of “Not Sa No Sa” quickly evolves into free statements of instrumental fluidity; bar lines and changes are dispensed with, and a brief “martial head” restores order at the end. “Flying in the Sky” shows a bit of Ellington-style voicing for reeds before Hill and drummer Nasheet Waits exchange free dialog. The contrapuntal lines among tubaist Hans Lohrer, altoist Peter Fuglsang, bass clarinetist Liudas Mockunas and their closing lines with Hill indeed feel like they’re flying. “Yesterday Tomorrow” provides the best of colors in the high reeds and low brass, plus a hypnotic ostinato by baritonist Mockunas. “Do To,” a Hill solo, is an all-too-brief moment of sheer introspection. I can now say it has many beautiful moments, some less than beautiful, and many moments of controlled chaos.