Selection: Morning Flower (320 kbps MP3)
Andrew Hill (piano) Chris White (bass) Art Lewis (drums) recorded October 17, 1974, Minot Studio Copenhagen Denmark , engineer Ron Caran
Whatever happened to Andrew Hill? ask the liner notes to this Steeplechase recording from 1974, remarking Hill’s absence from the recording studio since 1969. Like several jazz leading lights of the ’60s “life after Blue Note”, Hill moved from performance to the relative security of academic tenure, recording intermittently, mainly for European labels like Steeplechase, Soul Note, Freedom and Palmetto, until the final curtain fell in 2007
We like Hill here at LJC, with his unusual combination of chromatic, modal, and free improvisation. With Hill you expect the unexpected, but without the calculated free-fall of Cecil Taylor as he ventures into unknown territory, straying out of tempo while retaining precise control of composition and harmonics.
In the select piece, Morning Flower, a simple phrase is elevated to an iconic theme before embarking on various sonic explorations, including classical allusions and I swear, the cascading notes of the rhumba cubano. Percussionist Chris White simmers and splashes, rim-shot accents at will, whilst White’s bass holds the ground and maintains the pulse, bubbling underneath. A pure delight.
Vinyl: Steeplechase SCS 1026 stereo
A Danish Steeplechase rather than the Dutch, which I find lesser pressings, though still very acceptable.
Neglected record in a suburban store, where none of the passing trade saw anything beyond the pensive portrait of an unknown figure on a little known label, and some dudes in shonky hats.
This Andrew Hill Steeplechase was made in Denmark. I had the opportunity recently to compare a couple of copies of the same titles on Steeplechase, some made in Denmark, some in Holland. I found little sense in what I saw. Different label printers, different pressing plants, different years of production, slightly different sonics between the same title. No discernible pattern, other than the lack of pattern.
Nils Winthur is to be admired for his commitment to maintaining the Steeplechase label, and there was probably a whole business side to getting European vinyl pressed as an independent jazz label in the late ’70s and early ’80s of which we are unaware. It is thanks to European labels like Steeplechase, Soul Note and Enja that we have any recordings from these ’60s alumni of Jazz, a lasting legacy created by determined individuals who swam against the commercial flow. And just in time, on vinyl, before the encroachment of digital technology and the evil silver disc.
Not all forward movement is progress. Even the hats looked better then.