Sunday, August 05, 2012


Well, I guess I threatened some sort of Blue Note avant/hard-bop entry. I believe I have - ever-so-briefy - mentioned these records before, but they are both albums worth far more than just a cursory glance: pianist Andrew Hill's LPs from 1964 and 1965, respectively, Point Of Departure and Compulsion!!!!!. After a number of years digesting their wares I can conclude that they are both up "there" in whatever imaginary list of The Greatest Jazz Albums Of All Time. Give me a prod, and I will likely provide said list in a heartbeat...
I'll admit, I was only introduced to these two album c/o a workmate about 3 or 4 years ago, the genius of Hill having previously escaped my grasp. Andrew Hill was born in 1931 and left this mortal coil in 2007. He is mostly known for a series of excellent recordings he made for the Blue Note label in the 1960s. From the early '70s onwards, he dedicated much of his life to music teaching and the halls of academia, although he still recorded sporadically, and indeed some of these later recordings are well worth perusing (he even managed to tour Australia a number of years ago, and friends who saw him play said that his genius had not diminished). But for now I'll speak of his two recorded peaks...
Point Of Departure notably features the presence of one of my faves, Eric Dolphy, in what must've been one of his last recording dates (well, one of them, since he died in 1964), and that fits, since a lot of this album reminds me of early '60s Mingus, when Dolphy was in his ensemble, and Dolphy's own late recordings such as Out To Lunch and Iron Man. An 18-year-old Tony Williams hits the skins, Joe Henderson and Kenny Dorham fill out the brass on sax and trumpet, respectively, and the overall sound is of a band of musicians in tune w/ each other, playing as an organic whole. The 12-minute opener, "Refuge", is the centrepiece of the record and features some great blasting from Dolphy on bass clarinet, and much like Mingus' platters from the same period, Point Of Departure is a record which really points forward to where a lot of exciting jazz was heading in the early/mid '60s, but one w/ a foot still caught in a late '50s hard-bop sound. It's still too loose and free-flowing to fall within a Third Stream realm (consult your Jazzosaurus Britannica, if you're feeling clueless), although it's also too composed (and composed) to reach the stratospheric ecstacy of, say, Ayler's Spiritual Unity, also released that year and also the most radical departure from traditional notions of "jazz" which had been made by anyone up to that point. But Point Of Departure is no middle-ground compromise: it is simply one of the most flat-out enjoyable, energised and many-layered slices of shazz you'll wrap your ears around, and one of the highpoints of its musical era.




And that brings us to 1965's Compulsion!!!!! (don't forget those exclamation marks), Hill's most far-out album of his career, a highpoint of Blue Note's extensive discography and a record which continues to blow my mind with each listen. It is, quite frankly, the kind of album which blows minds. Featuring the kind of line-up which breaks jazz boffins break out into a sweat reaching for the blood pressure pills - let's see, it has the mighty Freddie Hubbard on trumpet (a man who released and/or played on many fine discs in the '60s, though whose rep suffered by his bogus jazz-funk(!) moves in the '70s; the Arkestra's John Gilmore on sax (nuf sed); Cecil McBee (bassist extaordinaire, who shared stages & recordings w/ everyone from Yusef Lateef to Pharoah Sanders); Joe Chambers on drums (he hit skins for Dolphy, Mingus, Shepp and others); Richard Davis on bass (do I need to go on?! For MOJO readers, he's known for his work on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks); and - and this bit's important - the thumb piano/African drums/congas, as played by Nadi Qamar and Renaud Simmons (I don't have their respective CVs on me, but their contributions are crucial). Compulsion!!!!! works as a musical suite of sorts: there are only 4 tracks, just one being under 10 minutes (about 10 years ago, I was having an indepth discussion about jazz with a security guard; he made a very good point: when he sees that a "jazz" album has long tracks, he knows the music is going somewhere). Musically, it sounds a LOT like a mid '60s Cecil Taylor disc - Hill's playing is truly free-form, w/ lots of rapidfire cluster notes lending it a dense wall of sound - think Taylor's Blue Note recordings such as Unit Structures and Conquistador, mixed up w/ Sun Ra's sounds from the early '60s (think: Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy and Others Planes Of There). However, the added percussion adds propulsive rhythms which, when combined w/ Hill's cascading keys and wondrous sense of space from the brassmen (who never clutter the recording), make Compulsion!!!!! sound like no other "jazz" album released in its time. It's "out", it'll have squares running for the hills, but it remains an incredibly listenable disc. Or perhaps my tolerance levels for this kinda racket are simply through the roof these days. Andrew Hill never bettered these two albums, although I could also highly recommend his Black Fire, Dance With Death and Change LPs from the '60s. Blue Note/EMI is forever deleting then reissuing these albums, although Point Of Departure and Compulsion!!!!! appear to've been constantly in print for over the last decade and will set you back very little (you occasionally see them around Down Under for as little as $7.99 each). Considering the amount of joy you will gain from their presence in your life, that is a bargain.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article dave