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Time Lines (2006)

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Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill has been, in the gentlest of cases, an idiosyncratic player, composer, and bandleader. But often, reviews of his work have been quite strident and refer to him as an iconoclast. That's okay; some critics thought of Monk and Herbie Nichols that way, too. Time Lines has Hill back -- for the third time in his long career -- with Blue Note, the label that gave birth to his enduring classics like Black Fire and Judgment!. But Hill is still every bit the creative and technically gifted musician he was back in the day; perhaps more so. His band features seasoned veteran Charles Tolliver on trumpet, saxophonist Greg Tardy (who also triples on clarinet and bass clarinet, and beautifully, to say the least), and a rhythm section composed of bassist John Herbert and drummer Eric McPherson. The tunes reflect Hill's ranging interests as a composer, and they are demanding in that listeners must locate themselves within them, and yet must also meet the composer's criteria. None of these compositions are brief. They are almost all in the eight- to nine-minute range. Check the opener, "Malachi," dedicated to Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist Malachi Favors. Hill's chords lay down a series of colors, slowly, purposefully, without artifice or idiomatic device; he calls the other players in a few at a time before letting them drop out while his piano meanders through the emotions he finds in his own harmonic inventions. In other places, such as on the South African-tinged title track, one can hear the song-like structures of Abdullah Ibrahim, but the knottiness of Hill's own conceptual melodic sense moves somewhere else. He intercepts, interjects, and dictates the lengths of solos. All the while he explores the edges of each tune, finding new chords to color the melody he's playing with his right hand. "Ry Round 1" has some interesting front line play between the horns, as Hill plays chordal counterpoint to accent the swing in the tune. Tardy's bass clarinet playing on "For Emilio" is utterly lovely and engaging, and his solo in the middle is bright -- full of nuance and color. He is a master of the instrument, and while he's accompanied beautifully by Herbert, he is continually inviting the rest of the band in to track the lyric. As usual, Hill plays all around the lyric -- through it, on top of it, and underneath it -- bringing out its subtleties in the process. Hill's gift lies in his ability to employ the tradition exactly as he means to, yet he also seems to look for the mystery inherent in the improvisation and the dialogue of musicians with one another. The balladic genius in "Whitsuntide" is all the more so because, in various places, such as in Tardy's tenor solo, the tune threatens to break out into something else and Hill responds by giving him large modal chords to play off of, but then leads him back. Time Lines is yet another landmark in one of the most astonishing careers in the history of jazz. ~ Thom Jurek