Freddie Hubbard (tpt, flgh) John Gilmore (ts, bclar) Andrew Hill (p) Cecil McBee and/or Richard Davis (b) Joe Chambers (d) Nadi Qamar (African drums, African thumb piano) Renaud Simmons (congas) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 8, 1965
1965: All Change! All Change! The assassination of Malcolm X, civil rights marches on Selma, Alabama, the Watts Riots, The Beatles play Shea Stadium, Bob Dylan “goes electric”, Mary Poppins takes five Oscars…
But it wasn’t all bad. Sci-fi puppet adventure Thunderbirds debuted on British television. We all politely ignored the strings, agreeing to suspend disbelief. In return we were rewarded with exciting new role-models, geek-chic Brains, posh-tottie Lady Penelope and chauffeur, butler, class-system token, Parker, who alone at International Rescue had a proper job.
Public taste in music turned increasingly to pop, rock and soul as record companies addressed the prime interests of the new teenage audience: dating, dancing, and draft-dodging. Jazz would have to go its own way, driven only by the personal vision of individual artists.
At the mid-point of the decade, Compulsion continued Andrew Hill’s further progression into the avant-garde. Featuring a percussion-heavy octet including two additional percussionists on African drums, it offers an uncompromising vision of shifting tonal colors and tangents, underpinned by an African rhythm pulse. In the selected track, Premonition, the rhythmic repetition of the African drums contrasts with Hill’s dissonant (American/ European?) piano, a political metaphor for what he saw as the intersection of two cultures. Or may be I’m over-interpreting.
Hill bolsters his credentials with the inclusion of John Gilmore – prior to Gilmore’s long-term move to Saturn. Gilmore strays onto bass clarinet, and Hubbard makes the occasional swap from trumpet to flugelhorn, maintaining the provocative sonic melange. Combine all this with two bass players on one track, and a total five exclamation marks in the title, you have all the necessary ingredients for a “far out” session.
The track titles – Compulsion, Legacy, Premonition and Limbo – represent Hill’s narrative on the afro-american experience, reflecting on the civil rights issues of the day, significantly, ending not in Resolution but in Limbo. Who needs stories with a happy ending anyway? As is often the case, the composers intentions are not necessary for an appreciation of the music, which stands iconoclastic, on its own. You either like it or you don’t, or are not sure if you like it.
Depending on your point of view, Hill is an antidote to be-bop clichés, or a reminder why you feel more at home with be-bop “clichés”. Even if it’s not your thing, it still counts towards your five-records-a-day healthy listening allowance. And that is good for you.
Vinyl: BLP 4217 NY labels no ear, VAN GELDER stamp, mono.
The 1st pressing, by Liberty (I am confident on this one, rainmakers!)
A record stamped audition copy previously owned by someone called Ira. Ira Gitler? Nothing is impossible. It is challenging music and seems to turn up not infrequently on record shop shelves. According to Popsike, an autographed copy coincidentally also stamped “Audition Copy”, recently fetched several hundred dollars.
Hill left a long legacy of challenging music, I still prefer Hill’s earlier less-challenging work, low-calorie avant-garde: challenge-lite. A forthcoming post will test the more adventurous still. Cecil Taylor, I’ll say no more.