Andrew Hill: Smokestack
Andrew Hill (piano)
Smokestack ((Blue Note 832097)
Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 13, 1963
Rating: 100/100 (learn more)
This is one of my favorite albums of all time, of any artist, on any instrument. It takes Richard Davis and Roy Haynes, who rounded out the trio on Black Fire from a month before, and augments it with a second bass player, who becomes a kind of X factor. It frees Richard Davis to orbit the group, rather than anchoring it, and Eddie Khan, it seems, ends up taking more of the traditional bass player role. Thereís something so powerful about the driving rhythmic vortex, the rhythms spiraling around each other, between Haynes and Richard Davis and Eddie Khan. Eddie Khan is playing this vamp, a clave pattern, driving the rhythm. If you were to notate it, it would be two dotted quarters and a quarter over the course of four beats, which is that classic Afro-Caribbean rhythm thatís ubiquitous in American music. But then, what Richard Davis does across that is a warped version of that pattern, which tumbles across the barlines. So what Eddie Khan is doing fits squarely in the bar, while Richard Davis reaches past it. You get this very sharp rhythmic relationship, like a high harmonic relationship, if that makes sense.
Thereís an alternate take, and in the take that wasnít used, Eddie Khan is walking, while Richard Davis plays very much the same. When Eddie Khan is walking, the relationship between the two basses isnít quite as interesting. Itís simpler, and that seems to hold it back, compared to the intensity of the rhythmic space that they created in the take that was chosen. Then also, Roy Haynes is so playful. Itís not like heís just playing a square beat or anything like that. Heís playing interactively and as inventively as ever. This is some of my favorite examples of Roy Haynes on record, actually. Itís so alive. Then, too, the song itself has such majesty to it, such mystery. Itís a harmonic maze of its own. So the whole thing, with all these different rhythmic layers and the harmony being a progression that doubles over on itself. . . Itís like the whole thing is this massive polyphonic labyrinth. Itís incredible.
Reviewer: Vijay Iyer