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Dance With Death (1968)

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Charles Tolliver

Andrew Hill's Dance of Death, recorded in 1968 with a stellar band, was not issued until 1980. In the late 1960s, Blue Note was no longer the most adventurous of jazz labels. While certain titles managed to scrape through -- Eddie Gale's Ghetto Music did but only because Francis Wollf personally financed it -- many didn't. The label was firmly in the soul-jazz groove by then, and Hill's music, always on the edge, was deemed too outside for the label's roster. Musically, this is Hill at his most visionary. From hard- and post bop frames come modal and tonal inquiries of staggering complexity. Accompanied by trumpeter Charles Tolliver, saxophonist Joe Farrell, drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Victor Sproles, Hill engages, seemingly, all of his muses at once. Check out the sinister modal blues that is "Fish 'N' Rice" with its loping Eastern-tinged blues and loping horn lines around Hill's knotty fills in the head and choruses. In "Partitions" the steaming head is so rigorously tangled it's only the counterpoint of Hill's piano that makes an exit possible, with deep blues underpinnings and strident swinging soul. The title cut dances Afro-Cuban in the head, but Hill's piano is in a minor modal groove, with Higgins playing a textural, syncopated four-four as Sproles' punches on the two and four as the solos begin winding through the modes, bringing back the blues on tags. Dance of Death is a phenomenal record, one that wears its adventure and authority well. ~ Thom Jur