Sunday, April 12, 2009

April 12: Andrew Hill, "Point Of Departure"

Artist: Andrew Hill
Album: Point Of Departure
Year: 1964
Label: Blue Note

It is somewhat tragic, that due to the sheer number of experiential jazz musicians throughout the 1950's and 60's, many of the greatest simply got "lost" in the shuffle. Though he played with some of the biggest names in be-bop and jazz, Andrew Hill has never quite received the credit that he deserves for both his playing ability as well as his musical innovation. Releasing more than thirty albums over his career, perhaps his most amazing album was his 1964 release, the aptly named, Point Of Departure.

By the time Andrew Hill released Point Of Departure, he had already been recording for nearly a decade, and had released, among others, the equally impressive Black Fire (which I will review later this year). Andrew Hill uses Point Of Departure to further solidify his reputation as one of the most prolific jazz composers that has ever lived. Fusing the sounds of be-bop and constantly changing keys and time signatures, Andrew Hill created a sound like nothing else ever heard. The complex mixture of minor modes, flowing in and around majestic chord-based improvisations is nothing short of stunning. While a majority of jazz composers at the time preferred to let aleatoric theories shape their music, the base structures of Hill's compositions were purposefully constructed. Point Of Departure presents stunningly complex works, both in the sense of tempo, as well as the harmonic structure of each song. No single member of the quintet takes more space than they should, and it is this understanding that makes Point Of Departure a legendary record. Oh, and for the record, the ENTIRE album was recorded in a SINGLE session on March 31, 1964.

The lineup found on Point Of Departure is almost as impressive as the album itself. With jazz legends Eric Dolphy (who was in quartets with both Mingus and Coltrane) and Joe Henderson (who would go on to found Blood, Sweat, and Tears) sharing sax duties, it is puzzling that the album did not receive more notoriety. The duo of saxophone masters play wonderfully off of one another, taking the fundamentals of hard-bop, and reshaping them like never before. Dolphy and Henderson share the spotlight unselfishly, and each of them have shining moments, as they skillfully groove in, out, and around the others' playing. The rhythm section of Richard Davis and Tony Williams is not to be looked past either, as they perform flawlessly throughout, keeping pace with the jazz legends by which they are surrounded. Truth be told, the quintet featured on Point Of Departure, is one of the finest ever assembled, and it takes the record from "great" to "jazz classic."

From his initial solo, which leads off the albums' first track, it is clear that, while surrounded by amazing jazz musicians, Hill is still the best of the bunch. He seems to have the unique ability to play a brilliant solo with one hand, whilst using the other hand to have a "musical play" with his saxophone players (seriously, listen to the hand separation on the tune, it's amazing). Though Hill is superb throughout Point Of Departure, it is often the way in which he takes the lead that is stunning. Jumping to the forefront of compositions with lightning-fast improvisations, or seemingly chaotic augmentation of chord structures, Hill is constantly rewriting the books on free form jazz throughout the album. The key and harmonic structure of the songs somehow change mid-tune, yet the band follows Hill's lead, and often times, it almost sounds as if a new song has been created within the original. With Hill's direction, the tempos throughout Point Of Departure are constantly shifting, yet it is always clear that the band is in complete control, and there is a clear beauty in hearing the quintet dance on the edge of chaos.

Andrew Hill is, without a doubt, one of the most important composers in the history of jazz music. His innovations in the harmonic structure, as well as his complex rhythmic shifts helped to pave the way for jazz musicians for decades to come. Though never given the credit he richly deserves for his accomplishments, Hill's recordings remain today as some of the finest example of creativity found within the free form jazz style. Assembling an all star lineup, Andrew Hill managed to find a way to get each musician to check their ego at the door, and the shared musical space the quintet created is absolutely awe inspiring. Though Andrew Hill released many great jazz records throughout his career, his 1964 release, Point Of Departure, stands tall as one of the most phenomenal moments in jazz history, and should be revered and loved by all music fans.

Standout tracks: "Refuge," "New Monastery," and "Flight 19."

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