Andrew Hill: Verona Rag
Andrew Hill (piano)
Verona Rag (Soul Note SN121110-1 [LP])
Andrew Hill (piano).
Recorded: Milan, July 5, 1986
Rating: 100/100 (learn more)
Basically, whatís always drawn me to Andrew Hillís music is that itís so mysterious. It challenges your sense of what music is. You canít really listen to it as style, like, ďOh, this is a great example of hardbop, or postbop.Ē To me, it just explodes all those categories. Itís something much more fundamental about existence. I listen to it on those terms, like itís telling me something about consciousness or about life. When I give a piece a grade of 100. . . I donít know how it would stand as a piece of music, because to me itís something larger than that.
Hereís something I wrote earlier about ďVerona RagĒ for Destination-out.com:
How can one piano piece contain the universe? Somehow this one does . . . It is and is not a rag in the traditional sense; it has a traditional rag form, maddening repeats included, but it also spirals off at times---into fragments of other songs, into glacially paced anti-rag ruminations, into what seem like the recesses of human consciousness. It has glaring imperfections and yet also seems perfectly balanced. Its pulse careens, wobbles, and falters, but this results in a more accurate portrayal of human motion than any piano roll ever could capture. It pushes a quintessentially ragtime hemiola figure to an absurd extreme. It is simply a tour de force explosion of the idea of rag.
Hill constantly allows the two hands to slide slightly out of register, enhancing the polyphony while peeling the rhythm apart like an onion, revealing musical pulse to be a mere convenience, a collective fiction. There are times when Hill seems to be fooling with us, but then you turn a corner and glimpse certain mysteries of existence. Check out the passage starting at 8:45 where he refracts the ďCĒ section, spinning these intoxicating lines across an insistently asymmetric sub-basement left hand, only to hit the last chord with deadpan simplicity each time.
The song ends suddenly, with a dash of elegance and humor, and it feels like the right time to make an exit. The listener has been put through the wringer. You are bewildered and have forgotten what life was like before the song started. But, as Wadada Leo Smith said in this clip from the film Eclipse:
ďThe artist is the consciousness of society, but musiciansí role is very special. Itís a way of making an example of the perfect state of being for the observer, causing, if itís successful, the observer to forget just for a moment that there is anywhere else existing except that moment that theyíre engaged in, and to eclipse everything that was happening to them before they began that process of being the observer, or being involved and engaged between art and music and listening, and to transform that life in just an instant, so that when they go back to the routine part of living, they carry with them a little bit of something else.Ē (Smith, Eclipse)
Reviewer: Vijay Iyer