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Buck Hill: Uh Huh! Live at Montpelier

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A contemporary of Rollins, Mobley and Trane, tenorman Buck Hill, of Washington, D.C., managed to elude national fame for decades by remaining a day-job-bound family man who rarely worked outside his local turf.

On a personal note, while playing at a D.C. hotel in the mid-’50s, I was advised to check Hill out after work. The subsequent impression he made with his deep broad sound, hip changes and swaggering rhythmic drive all but put the top New York bop tenormen out of mind. His most frequent companions in those years were guitarist Charlie Byrd and bassman Keter Betts, but so masterful was his own playing that I can’t recall whether they were on this particular gig or not.

Jump ahead 45 years and here is Buck again with his now longstanding rhythm section-pianist Jon Ozment, bassist Cheyney Thomas and drummer Jerry Jones-doing eight Hill originals, all of which display remarkable freshness of thought. While Buck’s lines are deceptively simple, their harmonic underpinnings are what make them so intriguing. Two of them, “Minor Mode Blues” and “Jasing,” reveal his bluesy, saxophonelike approach to clarinet tone, while the others display his still lingering control, at 74, of the tenor skills first noted in the ’50s. Perhaps it is not too fanciful to suggest that if Hank Mobley had been fortunate enough to survive to this day he might have sounded much the way that Buck sounds today.