All too often, the jazz concertgoer is left feeling like Goldilocks, confronted by offerings that are too hot or too cool, too structured or too free. Pianist Andrew Hill, who could, in the proper mood, list toward any of the aforementioned extremes, is one of the most reliable profferers of sounds that hit the spot just right.
Hill, who was using this stint to cull recordings for a live album slated for release later this year on Palmetto, has always been a complex player. The passage of time has burnished his tone somewhat, adding a degree of classicism to temper the fierceness of his earliest work with Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
While he usually surrounds himself with a fairly large unit given to collective improvisation, Hill carefully scripted the movements of this big band. The elegant movement of “A Beautiful Day” set the tone for the perf, with graceful saxophone lines goosed along by a trombone section that shuffled along in arch fashion.
Chief among the soloists were longtime Hill collaborators Marty Ehrlich and Greg Tardy, who alternated between saxes and clarinets, adding, respectively, undertones of film noir mystery and infectious passion to serpentine renditions of “Divine Revelation” and “Pinocchio.”
Hill’s own playing was lissome, his chordings eschewing linear progression in favor of terpsichorean digressions that peaked on a lovely version of “Faded Beauty.” The only problem with the construction of the set was that Hill did not afford himself sufficient time in the spotlight. Sharing conducting duties with trumpeter Dave Ballou, he spent a fair amount of time offstage altogether, sculpting the contributions of dozen or so horn players into a misty, urbane whole.
Nevertheless, the pervasive richness of the perf was indisputably addictive, with each successive layer of melody beckoning more ethereally. If that ambiance can be captured on disc, Hill will have a magical recording on his hands.