Sunday, February 7, 2010

February 7: Andrew Hill, "Black Fire"

Artist: Andrew Hill
Song: "Black Fire"
Album: Black Fire
Year: 1963

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With all of the amazing innovations and creations coming out of the jazz scene in the late 1950's and early 1960's, it was tragically easy for artists to get "lost in the mix." As a wide array of musicians pushed the genre into countless new directions, a handful rose to the top, while this inevitably left a number of equally important musicians to be somewhat forgotten over time. Among these unquestionably crucial performers was a man who took what can be seen as a completely opposite approach to jazz when compared to what a majority of musicians at the time were doing, Andrew Hill. Perhaps the biggest difference between Hill and his contemporaries is that while others were leaving their music innovations largely to chance (via improvisation), Hill's work was very much contrived, yet brought with it an equal amount of impact and creativity. Composing some of the most rhythmically complex arrangements, fused together with equally brilliant piano and saxophone progressions, the music of Andrew Hill served as a blueprint for countless artists who followed. Completely taking the jazz world by storm from the onset, his first release for Blue Note Records, 1963's Black Fire is truly like nothing else before it, as Hill mixes together Afro-Cuban sound with the more "formal" jazz sound, as he uses his mixture to push the limits on the bop style. Though every track on the record is a true masterpiece, it is the title track that most clearly displays everything that made Andrew Hill such a stunning musical force.

One of the more significant aspects of Black Fire as a whole is the way in which the instruments are balanced within the mix. With an overwhelming majority of the sessions produced by Blue Note at the time, the drums were rather buried in the mix, yet throughout Black Fire, they are almost strangely forward in the mix. The man behind the drums, Roy Haynes, remains one of the most recorded drummers in history, yet one would be hard pressed to find him in better form than he is here. His position in the overall mix of the song and album as a whole enables him to play a fantastic sonic counterpoint to the other instruments on the track, and it helps to make the drums for of a central part of the music, as opposed to simply a "backing" instrument. The other half of the rhythm section, bassist Richard Davis, would play on many of Hill's early records, and he also appears on countless other iconic jazz records, most notably Eric Dolphy's Out To Lunch!. Rounding out Hill's group is tenor sax legend, Joe Henderson. The way in which Hill and Henderson musically interact is nothing short of stunning, as the duo make a strong case for being one of the finest pairings in jazz history. Whether they are trading solos or trading bars quickly, the two clearly share an uncanny musical chemistry, and they work together brilliantly, as they push the limits of the bop style, and at many points, move completely beyond it into something new.

While the other musicians play with amazing precision, there is rarely any doubt that each note is a result of the fantastic work of Andrew Hill. Using these amazing players to fully explore his stunning musical ideas, Hill is truly one of the most daring and creative innovators in the history of jazz music. On "Black Fire," one can almost feel Hill attempting to push into a new style, as the stellar progressions he has composed are clearly from someone who can see far beyond the hard bop form that was dominating the genre at the time. Presenting what are unquestionably some of the most daring and complex arrangements in the history of the genre, Hill plays some of the most creative and challenging solos in history, while Henderson is clearly pushed to attempt to equal this, and it results in some of the most bold and musically adventurous moments in recorded history. It is through this that "Black Fire" is able to have a strange "swing" to it, whilst remaining a powerful jazz juggernaut. The manner in which Hill constantly "lands" on Haynes' beats is also something to be experienced, as there is a clear synchronicity between the two that is unlike any other jazz record ever. This clear concentration on making the entire band move as a single rhythmic unit was unlike anything else at the time, and it is one of the key aspects that made Andrew Hill's work so pivotal in the development of new styles of jazz.

The list of important and innovative musicians within the jazz genre was perhaps no bigger than it was as the 1950's turned into the 1960's. With countless icons of the genre veering off into new directions, the era yielded some of the most creative and legendary moments and recordings, whilst shaping the direction of the genre for decades to come. While an overwhelming majority of these innovations came as a result of mind-boggling improvisational recordings, there were a number of artists who were able to achieve similar influence, yet composed nearly every note of their music. Within this latter group, there is perhaps no better an example of the power and innovation that one can create within a planned composition than one finds in the stunning music of Andrew Hill. Rarely being satisfied with a single style or sound, Hill constantly pushed the limits of jazz, and infused many unorthodox styles and sounds into his songs. It was this ability to create brilliantly spontaneous, yet controlled progressions, whilst never nearing anything that sounded copied or cliché that makes his music so exciting, as well as one of the keys that made his music so influential to later jazz musicians. Perfectly capturing everything that made Andrew Hill such a legend, as well as why he was so wonderfully "different" form his peers, one need look no further than the title track from his magnificent Blue Note Records debut, 1963's Black Fire.

1 comment:

Elliot Knapp said...

Awesome review; love the passion in your writing and I love this album too! I also just reviewed it. Hill's got a lot of great albums!