towering hill.

Those saddened pauses that accompany the news of a jazz master's passing is something any critic knows well. But in the case of pianist and composer Andrew Hill, who died early this morning, I can reflect on the dozens of memorable performances I witnessed and the thrill I felt recently when his new recordings, his older unissued work, and his reissued classics converged to command listening time and demand critical praise.

What I loved most about Hill's music, for me, defies words. Neverthless, here's what I wrote in a capsule review about his 2006 CD Time Lines for a Wall Street Journal roundup:

A solo piece, "Malachi," closes Andrew Hill's latest recording. It's a reprise of the quintet version that opens the CD. The two tracks can be read in reverse: In quintet, Eric McPherson's skittering snare-drum work and glancing cymbal strikes intensify the gently rolling movement of Mr. Hill's solo statement, and the long tones from Charles Tolliver's trumpet and Greg Tardy's tenor sax extend his hints of melody. Mr. Hill's music generally suggests more than it declares and adheres to no established school of thought. The pianist came of age in the 1960s, with a series of landmark albums for Blue Note that remain as enigmatic as they are important. "Time Lines" starts a third tenure for Mr. Hill with the label (he left the label in 1970, then rejoined from 1989-1990). Now, as on Mr. Hill's earliest recordings, the music sounds radical -- yet in subtly inviting ways. It contains staggered phrases, counterpoint, and kaleidoscopic changes of harmony. And it is grounded in multiple meters that rub against one another almost imperceptibly, like tectonic plates in shift. Mr. Hill is a primary influence for some of jazz's most interesting pianists, from Matthew Shipp to Jason Moran. What they prize are the near-perfect union of composition and improvisation in his music and the well-shrouded mysteries at its core.
(and here's the emailed obit notice that arrived today from publicist Jim Eigo):

I've been asked by composer and pianist Andrew Hill's family to announce to the press that he died at 4 a.m. today, April 20, 2007, several years after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 75 years old and lived in Jersey City, NJ.

Hill, born June 30, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois (contrary to some previously published places and dates dates), had a lengthy international career as performer and recording artist, and educator (at Portland State University; he also gave master classes at New York University, and elsewhere; he leaves a voluminous and highly varied recorded legacy, dating from the 1950s (So In Love) to his 2006 trio album Time Lines (Blue Note), named to many critics' top ten lists. Hill is survived by his wife Joanne Robinson Hill, and a niece, nephew and cousin, besides a devoted coterie of friends, typically creative artists and perceptive fans.

As announced on April 11, Andrew Hill will receive an honorary doctorate of music degree from Berklee College of Music at commencement May 12; other honorees "for their achievements in the world of music, and for their enduring contributions to American and international culture" this year are Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and The Edge; this distinction has previously been extended to Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Quincy Jones and Ahmet Ertegun, among a few others.

April 20, 2007 7:36 PM |


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