Andrew Hill: Passing Ships (1969) Blue Note TP (2021)

 

 

 

 

Track List

  1. “Sideways” – 4:09
  2. “Passing Ships” – 7:08
  3. “Plantation Bag” – 8:32
  4. “Noon Tide” – 9:49
  5. “The Brown Queen” – 6:22
  6. “Cascade” – 6:27
  7. “Yesterday’s Tomorrow” – 5:11

Selection: Passing Ships (Hill)

.  .  .

Artists (with wiki-links)

Andrew Hill  piano; Dizzy Reece; trumpet (solo on tracks 1, 3, 4) Woody Shaw – trumpet (solo tracks 2, 5-7); Joe Farrell, alto flute, English horn, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Howard Johnson,  bass clarinet, tuba; Robert Northern,  french horn; Julian Priester, trombone; Ron Carter,  bass; Lenny White, drums; recorded Englewood Cliffs, November 7 (tracks 2, 5 & 6) and November 14 (tracks 1, 3, 4 & 7), 1969.

Woody Shaw! Dizzy Reece! Ron Carter! What a line up! The suprise was Joe Farrell, best known for his 1970s jazzy-funk albums for CTI  and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. Before the funk/fusion typecasting, Farrell is heard here as a talented multi-instrument multi-stylist in the mould of Yusef Lateef. Lenny White, a fusion drummer who later also sought refuge in RTF, contributes sensitive atmospheric underpinnings.

Music

Andrew Hill put together a nonet with a six piece brass and woodwind section to record this ambitious work. Instruments stolen from a passing classical orchestra on tour –  alto flute, French and English horn, bass clarinet, and tuba – join with the conventional modern jazz  ensemble to form an adventurous sonic palette, skillfully fleshing out Hill’s thoughtful architectural-scale compositions.  

The title track is a remarkable piece. Joe Farrell’s plaintive theme on oboe floats over a muscular undertow of modal waves forged by trombone and trumpets, giving way to marvelous solos from Julian Priester and Woody Shaw. Shaw’s vibrato has rarely sounded as beautiful. Farrell steps in to round off the solo passage, bright hard tone, his own voice. “Passing Ships”, a powerful maritime metaphor, slow moving hulls displacing massive tonnage of water pass within sight of each other, a brief encounter, each carrying many lives with their hopes and dreams, bound ultimately for different destinations.

Passing Ships is absolutely gorgeous – writing, playing and listening.

All-Music review, 2010:

OTHER TRACKS: “Plantation Bag” is a showcase for Farrell’s tough, grooved-out soloing as he blows blue and free in response to Hill’s funky, large-spread chord voicings. The Asian melodic figures at the heart of “Noon Tide” add exoticism to one of the most adventurous tunes ever written by Hill.”Cascade,” with its staggered harmonic architecture, is remarkable for its precision and rhythmic invention.

This is not just any Andrew Hill record, this is one of his best. It is a “big band” but not the usual set-piece big-band arrangements but a mosaic of different voices inside Hill’s rhythmic structures. The tonal range is stretched by bass clarinet and tuba in the lower register, to alto flute, oboe and soprano sax in the upper. The mid-range smoky solos are part of the structure, not a break out from it. Quite remarkable and not the usual output of /Liberty Records under TransAmerica in 1969. Liberty nevertheless had run with Hill’s Grass Roots the year before. It’s a wonder the session was funded at all, yet no decision was made to prepare it for release, perhaps Hill missing a management champion.

Vinyl: BST 90417

Searching out “lost sessions”, reissue producer Michael Cuscuna’s  liner notes tell of his disappointment with Passing Ships,  – “sounded like a train wreck” – which turned out to be merely a rough trial tape mix of the 1969 session, some instruments heard only through the echo return. Revisiting the vault, at Hill’s suggestion, Cuscuna finally located the original master tape, which immediately yielded up the session in its full glory.

This enabled the first issue on Blue Note Connoiseur CD in 2003, remixed and mastered in 24 bit.  It’s quite pretty, for a CD,  which isn’t saying much, but the music garnered critical acclaim from CD buyers. Amazon Customer Review headlines: “A masterwork of American music…Great jazz record…Great find… An Amazing Recording…A True Gem… A Mystery and A Revelation! (The mystery is: why did Blue Note sit on this outstanding date for over 30 years?”)

The three LP sides deliver a total 45:38 minutes of beauty from 1969, and the Tone Poet offers a direct lineage from the Van Gelder tapes,  delivering a more faithful rendition. With such a varied instrumental soundscape, stereo is unquestionably the format of choice, and the presentation is perfect.

Characteristic of Kevin Gray mastering: low gain (nearly half the volume  of typical Van Gelder original audio output), narrow groove width permitting most of the music to sit on the outer grooves of the LP and avoid groove distortion – except for Side 1, where the track lengths dictate the passing ships are nearly swirling around the spindle-hole, more like Sinking Ships.

 

Gatefold: first coloured photos I have see from a TP. I confess I prefer my 1960s in black and white, my inner Art Director explains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is the same gatefold rendered in black and white, which is the visual  equivalent of “mono”. Remove instrument position information, get more focus on the music – on the what, not the where;  remove colour information, more focus on  the essence of light and shade.

When we look at photos we are reading information, and the most information is usually in the face: we are programmed to read faces and facial expression.The information that Farrell’s shirt is blue is low value information. Ron Carter’s expression in black and white captures his emotions, eyes closed, in direct communion with the instrument. In colour, it is the over-saturated skin-tone that draws the eye, and another blue shirt. Colour loads you with unimportant information.

Hill’s paisley shirt is a different kind of statement, not sure why but way too noisy  in both colour and black and white. It’s a distraction from both face and the next important prop, the sheet music, instead, the shirt commands your attention. Hill’s  mustard roll-neck on the cover is less of a distraction.

Art direction matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry’s Place

Harry M has the picture: Andrew Hill, Montreux, 1975

Collector’s Corner

 The three LP sides have pushed theTP price point to just short of £50 in the UK. Cheap at any price, unbeatable sonic value.

Previous LJC Andrew Hill posts:

Point of Departure

Smokestack (? strange, I  have but not posted, to investigate)

Black Fire

Judgement!

Compulsion!!!!!

Andrew!!!

Also fine later recordings:  Shades, Grass Roots, Nefertiti, Invitation, One For One, Strange Serenade, Eternal Spirit, Divine Revelation, and  Dance With Death (Excellent LT Series another omission =  future post)

Which prompts the collector’s thought: which of Andrew Hill’s classic Blue Notes are most expensive as originals? Leafing through Ebay results, Point Of Departure is in pole position, closely followed by Smokestack. and Black Fire, and  bring up the rear at half the price, Compulsion!!!! and  Andrew!!!  I wonder how you view the market rate differential against the music content?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mosaic looks a bargain, with ten LP’s containing more albums and alt. takes, but, and there is always a big butt, it’s been out of print for over 25 years, and the Mosaic lacquers were apparently cut by a Duncan Stanbury at Master Cutting Rooms, a jobbing rock and pop engineer whose history which includes thousands of never heard of electric singles, among them The Beastie Boys and almost no acoustic jazz aside from some Ahmad Jamal – an engineer Mosaic chose to cut Van Gelder recording. What was Cuscuna thinking? Maybe he wasn’t thinking it was important. Mastering has long been a Mosaic blind spot, hit and miss, and now gone exclusively digital just as the vinyl wave rises.The 1995 Hill Mosaic didn’t have the benefit of Kevin Gray mastering, and it doesn’t contain Passing Ships – whose original tape was only found six years later, in 2001.

How many Mosaic boxsets suffered the same fate as this copy auctioned below?

“VINYL PERFECT MINT CONDITION, RECORDS NEVER PLAYED”

It is a smaller version of the Spotify/Tidal dilemma of infinite choice at the touch of a button. I have a 10-LP Miles Mosaic boxset, and it is suffering the same neglect, too much choice. Active Listening requires the discipline of vinyl, an effort to select and change LPs, discrete titles, small bites, absorb the music through active listening.

 

Mosaic boxsets can carry quite a heavy postage penalty, especially if the unwary are snared by this sort of offer on Discogs – actual current offer for the CD boxset., no LJC Photoshop mischief.  Methinks Mack’s taking the Mickey $100,000 postage?. On the other hand, US postal charges, caught between the rock of free email, and hard place of courier competition, it might be a warning of what’s to come!!

 

 

 

First impressions of Passing Ships TP?

Anyone else care to share their observations on Passing Ships, I’ve only played it a couple of times , so first impressions only so far, but I think this is going to become a star release of the TP series, mainly because of the sheer quality of the music. Mind you, Katanga! is just around the corner, in June. I already have the UK Fontana mono, but Tone Poet,  you are spoiling us, and  I’m willing to be spoiled. 

LJC

 

19 thoughts on “Andrew Hill: Passing Ships (1969) Blue Note TP (2021)

  1. Minimal distortion on the tapes. If small things like this are deal breakers for you, I would recommend just sticking with the RVG series and “other” CDs or vinyl sources from digital copies. Digital is much easier to correct / compensate for inconsequential minutiae. I can understand how our more aged listeners would have a problem, as tinnitus sets in during people’s twilight years of life, it does become increasingly difficult to tolerate for the “Get Off My Lawn!” Gran Torino-type crowd. That, combined with the probable myriad other sensory ailments, would probably make this record a difficult listen to anyone with improperly tuned “auditory enhancers” (hearing aids).

    • That being said, it was memorial day, and as an NCO in the Army, I do want to thank all of our WW I, WW II & Korean veterans for their service although this vinyl record was not exactly their cup of tea, due to many/entirely the reasons mentioned above.

  2. Thank you very much for another interesting reflection on a fine piece of music. Two minor distortions on my copy: yeilded = yielded; dilema = dilemma.

  3. The A Side is ruined by heavy distortion on my copy, assume it’s the pressing rather than on the tapes. The first TP I’ve bought which is anything less than perfect. Will have to swap it for another. Wonderful music though.

    • You might want to double-check your tracking force and anti-skate. This is a very dynamic piece of music that could present tracking issues for less than perfectly set up cartridges and tonearms. I have heard of others who made adjustments and were able to play this without any issues. We did not (and never do) use any compression while mastering this.

      • Thanks. I run a Kuzma R with 4 Point tonearm and an Ortofon Royal N cartridge that was set up and passed fit only three weeks ago. I check downforce and clean the stylus weekly. It’s not the set-up, it’s the pressing. I’ll swap it when I go back to my favourite record shop, hopefully that will solve the issues.

        • I have to agree, have the same issue and can assure it is not the set up as I repair turntables and install cartridges. I also noticed some on the beginning of Side 2. I’m glad I was not the only one to experience this as I spent about 3 hours re-adjusting my tracking force and trying multiple cartridges. 100% agree, it’s definitely the pressing.

      • Joe:

        Email me and I’ll send you my copy if you want, you can hear it for yourself at the end of Plantation Bag and the beginning of Noon Tribe. -Oddly, Cascade is fine during Woody’s solo, if it was going to mis-track it would think it would do it during that solo.
        Thanks -Eric (hitforhit@yahoo.com)

    • There are talking about this on other forums also….some have the distortion, some don’t….mine is on its way, hoping won’t know until next week if I’ll be sending it back or not….

      • I Ilstened through with a couple of Hi Fi buddies this afternoon. We noticed there are two brief moments of distortion in Plantation Bag – counted in seconds – where the massed brass section overloads, nothing spectacular. A nonet is very dynamic, and probably the engineer’s decision was to balance the overall gain for optimal, and sacrifice a couple of peaks, rather than sacrifice everything to contain the peaks.

        A couple of brief moments of distortion should not obscure what a great composition, performance, and recording this is. In my opinion, it’s not a pressing fault, the distortion is a feature of the original recording, in which case sending the record back won’t change it.

        • FWIW, I also note quite heavy distortion during PLANTATION RAG on my copy, which arrived at the w/e. Farrell’s tenor is on the very edge of distortion at various points and towards the end of his solo distorts very noticeably. There is a moment of heavy distortion (that ‘tearing’ sound) when Hill begins his solo. I’m not qualified to know whether this is an artefact of the original tape, an engineer’s decision to sacrifice perfection for overall dynamics, a pressing fault or — as many have said — a tracking problem arising from inferior turntable set-up. (My new and much-liked Project X1 turntable, which is just six or seven weeks old, would be regarded by many as falling into that last category, I imagine.)

          All I can tell you is what I hear on my copy — and in the case of Plantation Rag I’m afraid it does spoil the enjoyment of what I think is amongst the finest music on the record. I shall be returning my copy for a refund and I’ll make do with the old CD. I love PASSING SHIPS as a late addition to the Andrew Hill catalogue, but I don’t need it on vinyl so badly that I’ll spend £45.00 on a record that I think will dissatisfy me every time I play it. Yes, I suppose that had I a better and more expensive turntable, then my experience might be different. But I don’t.

          • Possibly I’m more tolerant of distortion. As a young man playing in a ’60s R&B/Blues Band, Gibson Les Paul guitar, Marshall amps, we spent a lot of money to create distortion, overdriven amps and speakers, fuzz box, wahwah pedal. I don’t find it so problematic, though it is clear some do. Maybe its for Tone Poet to come clean on Passing Ships. Is it the original recording, the re-mastering, the pressing, or the listener’s tonearm set up? I don’t have a problem with honesty, I prefer it.

            • The distortion which everyone is talking about is from the tapes, and from my listening of them appears to be from over-recording of the horn section. The low gain in the LP mastering has somewhat reduced the effect. On the original CD, the effect has been tamed further by the style of mastering applied to it, which emphasises a group performance over bringing out the distinctiveness of the different instruments. Unless of course there is anyone out there who has had their problem solved when they bought a second copy..

  4. Wonderful music, fantastic vinyl and sleeve from TP, as good as anything on the market, “Passing Ships” is my highlight and a tangible piece of 1969 at least for me, also any new record with Dizzy Reece is a bonus even if Carter and Farrell slightly steal the show. I’m sure that as I listen more I’ll find even greater appreciation and I do plan on a lot more plays.

  5. This album, for me, is one where the Tone Poet series reaches its Platonic ideal, its raison d’etre. The producers found a criminally overlooked album – overlooked even by Blue Note back in the day! – performed a masterful remastering and gave it the release to the public that it deserved. It also gets Andrew Hill albums into the hands of listeners like me who had known about him but never had affordable titles to listen to.

    Top picks: “Plantation Bag” with that whomp-whomp horns structure, and “Noon Tide.” But the album is a masterpiece all around.

    • Well put, Ben L. My copy hasn’t arrived yet so I can only hope I am as satisfied as you are. Now that PASSING SHIPS has received the vinyl reissue it fully deserves how good it would be for Tone Poet to do a matching GRASS ROOTS. As the years have passed and repeated listening has better acquainted me with these two titles I have come to rate them increasingly high in Hill’s work. Andrew Hill in an infectiously sunny mood — light of mood but not light of purpose — is truly pleasurable.

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