Andrew Hill: Chiconga
Andrew Hill (piano, vocal(?))
So In Love (Fresh Sound, FSRCD322)
James Slaughter (drums), unidentified percussionist.
Composed by Andrew Hill.
Recorded: Chicago, Late 1956
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
This is from a very early recording of Andrew’s with his working trio in the ‘50s that mainly did standards. In that context of a more workmanlike set of standards, this stands out as a piece of art music. It prefigures things to come for Mr. Hill. There’s some singing, which sounds like it might be actually Hill himself doubling the melody with his voice. It’s a very haunting dirge-like blues—sort of related to “Black and Tan Fantasy,” and maybe also “Creole Love Call,” because of this mysterious vocal part. More importantly, it documents an encounter with an unidentified percussionist who is playing various hand drums, bells, and things like that. In a way, it reminds me of some of these pan-Africanist projects from the previous decade, like the stuff with Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie. It has an episodic mini-suite form, even though it’s only a few minutes long.
At one point, the percussionist’s tempo is imperfectly matched to what Andrew and company are doing, so the two have a mysterious relationship to one another. That aspect prefigures the prominent percussion-piano relationships on Compulsion. Once I heard Andrew refer to the blues as a rhythm above all else, and you hear that sensibility in his brief solo on this tune. The rhythmic fluidity and expressiveness of his phrasing sounds straight out of blues. He comes off on the rest of the disk as an accomplished straight-ahead player, in a way that might surprise some people. There’s a version of “Old Devil Moon” that’s really in the pocket, swinging, rhythmically strong, intricate, and precisely arranged. I think it’s interesting to hear the amount of skill and dexterity he had with rhythm in a more traditional context. Later on, he was often heard as someone who was just rhythmically “out.” But when you hear his deep foundation in these groove-based approaches to rhythm, you realize that the later stuff actually wasn’t so “out”—it was more as if he reached further in. It’s interesting historically and there’s a lot to learn from it, so I’d give it a 95. It’s a fascinating moment from Andrew’s pre-Blue Note era.
Reviewer: Vijay Iyer