Andrew Hill: Smokestack




Andrew Hill (piano)


Smokestack ((Blue Note 832097)

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Andrew Hill (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Roy Haynes (drums),

Eddie Khan (bass)


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

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  • 1 sam chell // Apr 21, 2009 at 02:28 AM
    Anyone know whatever happened to Eddie Kahn? I caught him with Eric Dolphy (and Herbie Hancock) at the Univ. of Illinois (1963-64), and that's about the last I heard of him. Look up the name in Wikipedia, and you get the bio of a notorious tax protestor.
  • 2 sam chell // Apr 21, 2009 at 02:34 AM
    The irony (just occurred to me) is that I left for the Univ. of Wis. the next year, and who should show up as an associate faculty member? Richard Davis, the other bassist on the Hill date. He's still there, just outside of Madison, Wis, raising horses. A more virtuoso player, certainly, but there's a lot to be said for good walkers. Even Scottie LaFaro was a monster in that role before meeting up with Bill and making the Vanguard sessions. And the sound is so much clearer, and truer, than the sound of recorded bass in the '70s and, to a lesser extent, even today.