Andrew Hill: Point of Departure (1964) Blue Note

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Track selection 1: New Monastery

If you are an avant-garde pianist, the “elephant in the room” is Monk. Hill pays tribute, in his own way.

 

Track Selection 2: Dedication

A poignant piece under an ambivalent title, a simmering, towering, emotional work.  The funeral march has a powerful place in music and Hill has written a powerful memorial piece in the modern jazz idiom. Something to play sometimes as the mood takes you, when you crave more than just musical sunshine, darker, more light and shadow.

Artists

Kenny Dorham (t) Eric Dolphy (as, bass clar, fl) Joe Henderson (ts) Andrew Hill (p) Richard Davis (b) Tony Williams (d) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, March 21, 1964

Music

Andrew Hill  chronology:  Black Fire (1963) Smokestack (1963) Judgement! (1963) Andrew!!! (1964) Point of Departure (1964)  Dialogue (1965) Compulsion (1965) Involution (1966)

Deservedly listed as one of the top modern jazz albums of the Sixties, the power of “Point of Departure” flows from its formidable line up: bop trumpet veteran Kenny Dorham, post-bop sax heavyweight Joe Henderson, maverick pianist & auteur Andrew Hill, avant-garde hero Eric Dolphy, the bass from Booker Ervin’s “Books” Richard Davis, and  the impossibly young free swinging drummer, Anthony Williams. An Original Miles Davis Quintet for the Post-bop age, a powerhouse sextet harnessed in the service of Hill’s fiercely intelligent compositions.

Alfred Lion, Blue Note’s co-founder, called Hill his last great discovery, and between 1963 and 65 Hill’s star was in the ascendant with these adventurous “post bop” Blue Note recordings, some of which had to wait several years for final release during the Liberty and United Artists years, and some more recent still.

LJC-embellished on his Wiki: Hill’s playing is to be savoured for its rhythmic and harmonic complexity, as he sought to advance while remaining grounded in the traditions of Powell and Monk.  As a result some considered him to be a cusp figure: too “out” to be “in,” but too “in” to be “out.” (Sounds a good place to be, to me). As a pianist, his style is marked by extreme chromaticism, complex, dense chords, flowing, legato phrasing, and frequent rubato. He would often play against the rhythmic pulse, or move into different time signatures, Throughout, his skill as both composer and leader can be sensed as his musicians venture into unknown territory while still remaining precise and controlled. (Note to self: legato, rubato, rubadubdub, I must learn some of this music-speak, sounds essential to impress guests at diner parties. In case I ever get invited to one.)

Hill doesn’t seem to attract fanatical following like Bill Evans, but I think he is equally worthy of attention, deserving of active extended  listening.

LJC-lightbulb-fastshow22Postscript – what LJC learned today.

“Tempo Rubato (literally, ‘stolen time’) is a potent factor in musical oratory, and every interpreter should be able to use it skillfully and judiciously, as it emphasizes the expression, introduces variety, infuses life into mechanical execution. It softens the sharpness of lines, blunts the structural angles without ruining them, because its action is not destructive: it intensifies, subtilizes, idealizes the rhythm. It converts energy into languor, crispness into elasticity, steadiness into capriciousness. It gives music, already possessed of the metric and rhythmic accents, a third accent, emotional, individual…”

“Legato (‘tied together’) indicates that musical notes are played or sung smoothly and connected, that is, the player transitions from note to note with no intervening silence.” 

Vinyl:  BLP 4167 NY, no DG, VAN GELDER, ear, original pressing (fingers crossed, Cohen-owners do your worst) Stamped DJ COPY on the back sleeve, which is a good sign that usually signifies an early pressing promo with characteristic freshness of sound, played only once by its first owner on a well maintained turntable, maybe then archived for some years out of harms way. Or alternatively, it was previously owned by the notorious scratching hip hop MC  D.J. Copy

 

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4167-andrew-hill-point-of-departure-back-1600_ljc-1

Collectors Corner

(Reader advisory warning: text contains occasional graphic similes, bargaining, and frequent references to money. Disappointingly for readers, no profane language, sex or gratuitous violence, but may contain nuts.)

I had been after a nice clean copy of this record for several years, without success.  A chance conversation with a staff member in a record shop opened up the possibility of a private sale of some very sought after Blue Notes he was looking to dispose of from his personal collection.

twenty-pound-note-280A meeting was agreed, at which he would bring along the selected titles for my inspection, whilst I would bring along a collection of small watermarked engravings of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, known to collectors as “record vouchers” (pictured, right)

The day of the rendezvous arrived and I duly turned up at the agreed time, as did the seller with records under arm, commencing with the apology that he had been unable to locate some of the titles he had spoken of due to his filing system, known as random piles. But he had brought some others which may be of interest. Point of Departure stood out as the gem in a sea of funky soul-jazz items that were clearly more the sellers taste. The Hill seemed strangely out-of-place.

A quick sift determined this (and a Japanese press of Babyface Wilette) would be the transaction. Moment of truth, I asked, how much do you want for it? Deer frozen in the headlights. A minute’s silence turned into two, then three, as he struggled to reconcile the  irreconcilable – what he wanted, what it was worth, how much he thought I would pay, and how badly he needed the money running up to Christmas. I was having difficulty in getting him to speak, eyeballs swivling like a Blade Runner replicant experiencing an internal short-circuit.

In a situation like this someone needs to flush out expectations – float a figure to get the ball rolling. Sellers will sometimes pluck an example from Popsike (for a mint autographed pressing, of course) to set an upper marker while I sneer at the record faults, explain how little it is worth to me. Neither extreme is right but it begins to shape the important middle ground. But nothing was happening . Eventually I broke the silence with an offer. ” I’d be happy with… ” suggesting a generous (to me)  figure. That seemed to galvanize him into action,

He countered, adding another record voucher to my proposal. I responded – including the Wilette? No, add a bit more for the two. Match point. We were almost there. The artful buyer at this point takes out his wallet and starts counting out cash, only to discover they are a voucher short, probing for any weakness in the sellers position. Kindly soul that I am, I sealed it with a final offer, based on the tried and tested principle of rounding. No one wants to be seen as quibbling over a couple of pounds (though it sometimes happens). “Fair enough, done”

I was very happy to take home a much-wanted original Blue Note in excellent condition at a fair price, no postage or customs hazard, no  risk of seller misrepresentation, none of the usual anxiety that goes with distance buying and selling. I expect he was very happy to go home with  a nice set of engravings of Queen Elizabeth II.

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19 thoughts on “Andrew Hill: Point of Departure (1964) Blue Note

  1. In reference to your earlier post on Six Pieces of Silver in which we compared the position of the Plastylite “ears” in the dead wax of the vinyls, I now share the photos of the “ears” of my copy of Point of Departure, which according to all the details in Fred Cohen’s book is also a 1st pressing. Still the “ears” on your copy are in different spots than mine.

    For the interested ones amongst us, please click HERE to see my close ups. Make sure you view them in ‘slideshow mode’ 😉

  2. This record should be in every music fan’s collection. I hastily ordered an LP from CD and LP about 2 weeks ago. It’s now traveling across the world and I have no idea when i’ll come in the mail. Given the improbable 18.80 euros, postage included, I paid for it, I’m assuming it’s not a great copy. Argh, too bad I didn’t stumble onto your site before…
    For what it’s worth, I wrote a little post on Hill, Monk and Nichols. just putting it out there.
    http://wellyouneedit.wordpress.com

  3. As I have (almost) said before, LJC, keep going: there’s barely an Andrew Hill record that isn’t worth having. PoD is at the top of the pile but any (and all) of the Blue Notes are worth hunting down as are any of his releases on a series of small labels throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, up to and including his return-to-Blue Note releases of the 2000s (for the most part on CD, of course). Also any and all of his solo piano recordings – in fact, anything on Soul Note…in fact, any Hill. That same knotty, restless, probing, off-kilter sound is there. Hunt ’em down and enjoy.

    • Alun,
      absolutely.
      His album with Greg Osby and Jim Hall ‘Invisible Hand’ (under Osby’s name) – is astounding.

        • Which reminds me, there is another long-deleted late-80s LP called Eternal Spirit (if I remember correctly), which I used to have on CD but no longer do. It pushes further into that groovy samba-esque territory that Hill made so uniquely his own. The CD was as I remember it rather brittle and metallic in that late-80s way — another one to hunt for on vinyl. And a terrific 80s record which is fairly easy to come by is Shades, on Soul Note. I picked that up recently and it really is a fine session.

          • Alun
            I can’t imagine that Invisible Hand came on vinyl, I’m pretty sure Blue Note had phased out vinyl on jazz new releases at that point.
            Eternal Spirit is fantastic, and the vinyl sounds great.
            Dean

            • Dean, I suspect you’re right about INVISIBLE HAND. BUt I have just spotted a NM copy of ETERNAL SPIRIT, so I am reassured to hear that the vinyl sounds fantastic…. I just need to get the price knocked down a bit…

        • To belatedly answer my on question, I think it has been reissued as one of the BN 75th anniversary LPs, in fact… Reminder to self: investigate.

          Oh, and while I’m here, if you’re an elephant then the elephant in the room is an avant-garde pianist. You can choose your type.

          • Re Blue Note 75 anniversary editions, I noted this customer feedback:

            “But when I got this LP I was seriously disappointed with the vinyl quality. It is a reasonably heavy LP but when you look at it, you see all kinds of clouds in the vinyl pressing, and the first one had a bunch of pits & flaws, and both had a skip. Just like the old MCA vinyl pressings from the 1980s (not to just knock MCA) but corporate vinyl can really suck sometimes, and this is one of those things. But surface noise is a big annoyance on what I thought might be a good new reissue vinyl LP.

            I did return the LP and Amazon did do a good job of getting me a replacement copy pretty quickly. The second one was better than the first but not what it should be for what current vinyl buyers expect, especially for jazz.

            It is a great jazz LP for what you’d expect from these musicians but turns out, the vinyl (in a generic Blue Note 75th Anniversary sleeve) is nothing but another corporate disappointment.

            I will have to also add, recently I bought from my local record store, the 180g 2-LP set of the “Smile Sessions” by the Beach Boys. I used to like the recordings and know the story but turns out, that vinyl I bought was as flawed as my first one of this, and I had to return it for a refund. What is up with EMI/Capitol vinyl these days? Don’t they get it that people care about quality vinyl?

            • LJC, It is being widely reported that the US Universal pressings have numerous problems whereas the European (Netherlands) pressings by ands large are good. I have just bought ONE FLIGHT UP: DEXTER GORDON in a Netherlands pressing and it really is rather nice. The vinyl quality is good and while the record is cut somewhat quietly and needs a volume boost to bring it alive, it sounds pretty good to. Needless to say, my only comparison was an old CD and this certainly sounds better than that.

              Folks over on the SH site are saying try and source the Netherlands pressings if there are titles you want… The problem is that some sellers — certainly it is the case on Amazon — do not stipulate which pressings they have in stock… Mainly because they don’t know. The copy of ONE FLIGHT UP that I have says, amongst all the other stuff citing Universal, “Made in the EU”.

  4. LJC: I would be happy to swap record vouchers (in 20, 50 or 100 numerical units) any time you’d like. I am thinking the american version may get you more across the pond given the provenance of the vinyl.

    Once Kate gets her pic on the currency, however, I may be tempted to retract my offer.

  5. Private sale–I like it. I’ve got a blue label copy of this one–I need to check it out again. It was one listen and back on the shelf, and this is not stuff I ever had on CD or heard previously.

  6. You got yourself a splendid 1st pressing: all details are ‘by the book’. Congrats! I have this one as well, also a 1st pressing; maybe I’ll leave another comment later on with the close ups of the trail off etchings in my copy. Who knows we’ll find the Plastylite “ear” in different positions again, just like we did with Six Pieces of Silver. My copy even looks like yours: with the front cover photo and the back slick really out of balance…

    Anyway, one part of your meeting intrigued me, quote: “he had been unable to locate some of the titles he had spoken of due to his filing system, known as random piles” -This means that he does have other hot Blue Note gems (1568 anyone?), he just can’t find ’em right now. Are you going to meet up with him again?

    • No dice with the 1568!. Its a true story but written from memory as I am blogging in the rain, here in France. I think the guy must have moved on as I haven’t seen him since. Be interested to match up the trail offs, post when you can.

  7. ‘record vouchers’ ! I will be sharing that one with a few fellow sufferers. Perfectly put.
    A great, great album. I had the pleasure of catching Hill live a couple of times, once at the Jazz Cafe on the evening of the 1992 election, and then again in 2005 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. He was wonderful on both occasions.

    • Excellent purchase through an interesting route. Better than ebay.

      Every time I read your blog I’m priviledged to learn something. The water marked and engraved pieces of paper with Queen Elizabeth II on have always, to me, been beer vouchers. I hadn’t realised they had other uses. They don’t seem to be such good value, though, when used for other purposes.

      The one you’ve pictured could be exchanged for four or more pints of beer, but it seems you need more than one voucher to buy just one of those Blue Note thingys.

      Ah, life is so complicated.

      Guy

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