It might be a strange way to start a remembrance of a recently deceased artist, but I’ll freely admit that I had a love/hate relationship with Andrew Hill’s music. The fault was mine, of course; Hill’s music sometimes just outwitted me. I’m thinking of two solo performances of Hill’s I witnessed within 18 months of each other about 10 years ago. I left, frustrated, each time, well before Hill had left the stage. Well, not exactly. The first time, here in Ottawa, Hill left the stage numerous times, sometimes so briefly that it seemed that he might just be circling the backstage area for exercise, other times more decisively, perhaps to be shooed back onstage by the concert’s organizers. Each time, he left phrases unresolved; once, his hands poised over the keyboard and then withdrawn in second thought.
These two instances jarred with my reactions to Hill’s groundbreaking recordings on Blue Note in the 1960s and his later recordings for both Palmetto and the re-formulated Blue Note. I found Dusk ravishing and wrote glowingly of it. I assume I hit the mark with the artist since my remarks were quoted – without permission, as per the norm – to promote the recording. So we were simpatico there. But what to make of those solo performances? I wish I had recordings of them, because I’d love to plumb their depths and try to understand Hill’s logic, get as simpatico with him on those pieces as I was with others.
But my reaction speaks to why Andrew Hill’s passing deserves our attention; he was an original thinker and player.