Andrew Hill

Dusk (Palmetto)

Pianist/composer Andrew Hill, who cut his first album in 1965 and came to the fore in the mid-'60s with a series of Blue Note albums, on which the likes of Eric Dolphy, John Gilmore, Kenny Dorham, and Joe Henderson appeared, is still going strong and evolving. Hill's writing and playing draws from Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and bop and post-bop pianists, which he's synthesized in a very original and lucid manner.

Here Hill performs with a group that includes trumpeter Ron Horton, alto saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, tenorman Greg Tardy, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Billy Drummond. During the '60s, Hill's work was characterized by its thorniness, and certainly that quality is present on much of this album, but it's also tempered. His tribute to alto player Thomas Chapin, "T.C.," which contains bass clarinet duet work by Ehrlich and Tardy, his unaccompanied soloing on "Tough Love," and the brief (51 seconds) "Focus" are especially heartfelt. Another pretty piece is the title track, which is reminiscent of a Wayne Shorter composition. Also interesting is Hill's use of odd meters; he moves the horns around in ensemble passages, creating fresh, attractive harmonies and sometimes employing counterpoint.

The soloists rise to the occasion here. Hill, the most original of them, plays as well as ever. His improvising frequently has an angular quality, but he also exhibits the romantic and impressionistic aspects of his musical personality. Horton, whose lovely tone helps enrich the ensemble playing, solos impressively as well. At times, his work recalls Miles Davis, but it can be more modern and unpredictably fragmented. This is a more traditional setting than many that Ehrlich, usually considered an avant gardist, plays in, but he responds to the occasion with some of his more passionate recorded work. On the other hand, Tardy's recordings have fallen into the reactionary young lion category, and this is an advanced setting for him. He's updated his John Coltrane/Shorter-like style and, responding to the challenge of Hill's music, turns in his best work yet. Hill's become a somewhat forgotten man in terms of media attention lately, but this CD shows that he's still a superb artist.