Andrew Hill: Shades (1986) Soul Note, Italy (+photos added)

Selection: Tripping (Hill)


Andrew Hill, piano; Clifford Jordan, tenor saxophone; Rufus Reid, bass; Ben Riley, drums; recorded July 3-4, 1986,  at Barigozzi Studio Milan, Italy, engineer Giancarlo Barigozzi, mastered at Phonocomp, Milan by Gennaro Carona.

Hill’s most prominent public exposure was his string of titles as leader for Blue Note between 1963 and 1970 (Point Of Departure, Black Fire, many more), and a  strong accompaniment role on albums led by other Blue Note leaders such as Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson and Hank Mobley. Even in this early spotlight, Hill was not afraid to play against the grain of 1960s post-bop sensibilities, with his remarkably original style.

The 70’s found Hill often on European labels like Steeplechase, Freedom and Soul Note, and Tokyo-based East Wind/ US Inner City label (remarkable album Nefertiti) , where his intricate and challenging  compositions found themselves more at home. He seemed determined to pursue his own  creative path rather than go with the flow of popular taste, instead embarking on a parallel career as a jazz educator with various University tenures.

In the mid ’80’s,  after an absence of six years, Hill  returned to the Studio, in Italy,  teamed up with the underrated tenor Clifford Jordan (70’s voice of Strata East), and two  experienced jazzmen:  Rufus Reid, bass, and Ben Riley drums – Riley’s  four years touring with Monk gave him a perfect training school for a recording with Andrew Hill. Hill opens Side One with a composition fittingly titled “Monk’s Glimpse”.


Six original compositions, four in quartet, two in trio. “Stimulating and unusual music… Andrew Hill’s typically challenging and complex inside/outside originals” (AllMusic-  Four Stars)…  “Hill occupies that rare territory between the comfort of the familiar and the allure of the perceptibly unique” (NPR)

He has been described as ” Monk without the sharp angles”. I tend to think of Hill bringing musicality to Cecil Taylor’s unmusical complexity. (No offence! Well just a little…)  Hill blurs the distinction between composition and improvisation, to the point where you just have “Andrew Hill” and a constant flow of musical ideas.

Clifford Jordan’s  steadfast distinctive vibrato voice works in perfect contrast to Hill’s complex spidery flights up and down the keyboard. “Reid and Riley create exactly the right background for Hill, taut but undogmatic, elastic around the end of phrases, constantly propulsive without becoming predictable.”  –The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (compact disc edition, which to make up weight,  includes penguin)

Vinyl: Soul Note SN 1113

Piatto del giorni: Vinli Jazz – pressed in Milano (just making fun)

Soul Note is an interesting label with a menagerie of avant-leaning and free jazz. In my collection, another iconoclastic pianist Misha Mengelberg – Regeneration, George Russell – Live in An American Time Spiral (hard work!) , Cecil Taylor – Segments two – Orchestra of Two Continents – Winged Serpent (title more interesting than the music, which contains no winged serpents that I could detect), Mal Waldron’s enigmatic  Seagulls of Kristiansund (does not contain any actual  seagulls, though it sounds as if it does, courtesy of some extraordinary playing by Charlie Rouse doubling up on flute).

Sister label to Black Saint, Soul Note was kicked off in 1979 by Italian music producer Giovanni Bonandrino. Soul Note’s  catalogue contains very little if any Soul Music, Soul Not, so, possibly lost in translation, or the name “Soul Note” is a  take on “Blue Note”.  However Blue Note contains a lot of soul notes, as well as quite a few blue notes, so, either way “Soul Not”(e)  makes little sense, or maybe it makes sense if you are Italian, or maybe I’m missing something. The label design is a take on a sunset, which seems unrelated to anything musical, aesthetically pleasing, but only in a weather forecast context.

Anyway, kudos to Giovanni for the vision and the courage to build such a large portfolio of Unpopular Music in the 1980’s. Thirty five years later, some of us are just getting our ear in gear. Soul Not is good for me, and the engineering is top drop for its time. Bravo Italia. Bellisimo,  vinili Negroni !

Collector’s Corner

This is an example of Beachcomber Collecting, which is tangientally  different from Trophy Hunting. I visit a couple of record store regularly, thumb through the new arrivals, mostly there is little of interest, occasionally there is something that rings the bell, takes me in unexpected directions, some disappointing, some an intriguing new direction.

Some collectors search for the familiar, which denies them the prospect of new discoveries. However some of the stuff on the other shore is – to be honest, not very good. That is the price of discovery, you sometimes get to go home with disappointment. Other times you make great new discoveries.

UPDATE January 28, 2020

Harry M shares some photos of Andrew Hill taken at Montreux 1975

Photos courtesy of Harry M

9 thoughts on “Andrew Hill: Shades (1986) Soul Note, Italy (+photos added)

  1. I recently heard a prominent U.S. jazz critic and record producer say that in 30 years Black Saint/Soul Note records will be desirable and collected much the way Blue Note records have been for the last decade. Same reasons: the best artists of the era, exceptional writing and playing, great sound and engineering, attractive packaging. Sounds right to me. Admittedly, not everyone’s cup of tea, but just off the top of my head: David Murray’s HOME, Steve Lacy’s TRICKLES, John Zorn’s Sonny Clark tribute VOODOO, Frank Lowe’s DECISION IN PARADISE, Air’s AIR MAIL, Beaver Harris IN:SANITY — all stand out. And so many more…

  2. Another great but underappreciated gem. This one was recommended to me many years ago by two saxophonists, independent of one another. If you’ve never heard it, pick it up. As you Brits say it’s as “cheap as chips”.

  3. Soul Note/Black Saint hit the sweet spot for accessibility and avant jazz. Taking a chance on these labels is easy since they generally are well recorded and often in excellent condition at a relatively low price. What’s not to like? Steve Lacy, George Adams, Don Pullen, Martial Solal, David Murray – there’s some remarkable musicians on these records.

  4. Hill was served well by the Soul Note team and I don’t think he released a bad album for the label. The solo sets (FACES OF HOPE and VERONA RAG) are marvellous, contrasting records — the first dark and knotty; the second dancing and sunlit. STRANGE SERENADE, a trio set, is as good as anything Hill ever produced.

    And I have yet to hear a badly recorded Soul Note record. In fact, there is a lot worth hunting for on Soul Note/Black Saint.

  5. What stuff is crap?

    If you’re talking about Robert Glasper, then I agree.

    That Rubberband thing that they want us to believe is Miles Davis’ is also crap.

  6. Calling Cecil Taylor “unmusical” because his music is not exactly your cup of tea seems to me a little short-sighted. Would that mean that all the great musicians like Coltrane, Shepp, Bailey, Neidlinger, Roach, Bennink who played with him were only doing this poor guy a favour? It reminds me a little of that English gentleman I met in Rotterdam last summer who assured me that the “Europeans” were all driving on the wrong side of the road.

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