Thursday, January 26, 2006

the man on the hill #1: beginnings?

[The first in a series (?) of posts on Andrew Hill]

The man on the hill is necessarily detached: from the round mound of earth beneath him, from the people below him, from the grey sky behind him. Andrew Hill is detached, an anomaly, shrouded.

It starts right at the beginning(s): his made-up Haitian birth, Blue Note claiming "Black Fire" as Hill's debut recording, conveniently forgetting "So In Love," the general lack of commercial success that enveloped him. Later, there's the disastruous I-wanna-get-paid album, "Grassroots," which may well be a case of auto-sabotage. It was supposed to be a self-concious new beginning, it turned into a dead end (cf. the incredibly plodding first track of "Grassroot"'s first draft on the Connoisseur edition. The album proper is better, but not by much). Hill states in those liner notes that he doesn't play out much, that he lives off the generosity of patrons: not exactly the jazz hustler trying to break onto the scene. The latest beginning ("Dusk," "A Beautiful Day," the JazzPar Prize album, the upcoming third Blue Note stint, after a spate of re-issues) is still hopeful and promising.

Of course, all of this would mean nothing if Andrew Hill played obvious music: obvious swing, obvious blues, obvious avant-garde (cf. the hilarious epistolary liner note debates between AB Spellman, Leonard Feather and Bob Blumenthal (the latter in the new liners appended to the RVG editions) as to whether or not Hill is avant-garde) or even obvious solos.