Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Black Fire

ANDREW HILL - Black Fire

If I had to pick a favourite pianist I would find it very difficult, but Andrew Hill would have to be on the list. (the others? Herbie Hancock, definitely, and probably Tord Gustavson, too). Picking an Andrew Hill album would be even harder, so where better to start than with his 1963 Blue Note debut. Playing alongside luminaries such as Joe Henderson (tenor), Richard Davis (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums), Hill works a bop revolution starting from the inside. This is unusual for the time - most of the innovations taking place in jazz in 1963 were heading into free jazz territory.

All of the pieces have strong bop structures and melodic elements, but with Hill's characteristic unusual block chords. The harmonies have a modal feel that is reminiscent of the contemporary work of the more well-known Hancock. Opener 'Pumpkin' is a standout with it's strong tenor melody and melancholy feel. Hill's playing is at times complex but never sounds uncontrolled, even when he plays his trademark descending runs on the keyboard. These bring to mind a vision of his hands falling over each other as they run down the keyboard, but the playing is always totally accurate despite often being at odds with the accepted choice of chord. These unusual choices of chords make the music seem fresh, and give a feeling of freedom that is not dependent on abandonment of traditional notions of rhythm and harmony.

Black Fire has been reissued several times on CD, but the current Blue Note edition is a corker, with fine extra takes of 'Pumpkin' and 'Black Fire', and exquisite sound, beautifully remastered from teh original Rudy Van Gelder recordings.

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