I consider Andrew Hill’s piano playing to be crabwalk music: it goes forwards and sideways at the same time. There’s something fascinating about this tack; it leads the listener along, but allows for all sorts of tangents. To some degree it made Hill’s stuff seem elliptical – at times gracefully agitated, at times engagingly ponderous.
Looking back on the gorgeous body of work he made for Blue Note and other labels during his five-decade career (as a teen he gigged with Bird in Detroit), it’s hard not to cast his music as the epitome of freedom swing. Propulsion is at its center, but dissonance and tension are always welcome guests.
Hill’s death last Friday (April 20, 2007) wasn’t a surprise. The 75 year old improviser had been battling cancer for the last few years. His strength gave him enough time to add more important music to his canon; last year’s Time Lines is one of the piercing and poignant discs he’s ever made, and it got noticed. Hill’s status as a valuable elder statesman was underscored by splashy profile coverage in all the jazz mags and the New York Times. What some deemed arcane back in the ‘60s is considered eloquent these days.