Friday, March 12, 2004

Andrew Hill Quartet - 11/03/2004, Brussels

Greg Tardy - ts, cl
Andrew Hill - p
John Hebert - b
Nasheet Waits - d

I'd never seen Andrew Hill live before, and only heard a couple of his old albums (Point of Departure and Passing Ships, to be precise). If anything, his music has grown even more idiosyncratic in the meantime. While most musicians make gestures towards their audience (even someone like Cecil Taylor will sweep you off your feet and Hill's austerity makes his protégé Jason Moran seem a ribald entertainer), Hill seems content to tinker in a corner, his back turned to everyone else. Even when you notice that he might be doing something interesting and come to peek over his shoulder, he'll still pay you no mind. Which explains, perhaps, why the Cecil Taylor/Tony Oxley concert had packed the same hall that Hill filled nicely, but not to the brim.

Barely upon his seat, without a word, Hill launched into the introduction of the first piece, setting the tone for the evening. You could see Greg Tardy listening attentively to figure out when the leader's intros or solos were finished and it was his turn to jump in: Hill signaled these changes with only the slightest of cues.

Nasheet Waits (playing extremely differently from a few months ago with Jason Moran) and John Hebert provided roiling, turbulent tempo-less support for both Hill and Tardy, but the two main solists used this space very differently. While the saxophonist imposed order with conventional solo arcs, a velvety sound and an easy-going slowness of expression, Hill's logic remained opaque as notes were attacked sternly and lines were unpredictable, peppered with strange interruptions and digressions.

The only easily digestible bits were the themes, all, I can only suppose as no announcements were made, by Hill. Quite nice ballad-ish melodies stated by Tardy. Most were simply played, but the fifth song of the one-set concert was a bit more interesting: based on a simple, almost hymn-like arpeggio that was repeated three times progressively faster. This acceleration brought out some bounce and even (gasp!) some swing patterns, even though they always threatened to dissolve. The last song before the encore contained one of the weirdest grooves I've ever heard, despite Hebert providing a vamp. Tardy took up his clarinet for this one and provided his most abstract playing of the night, though he almost comically ended on a blues lick. Hill jovially announced the names of the musicians over the groove, in an almost game-show host manner. The inevitable encore consisted of a romantic ballad caressed by Tardy's gentle vibrato and even Hill's solo was more lush than prickly, despite many wide intervals and well-placed dissonances.