Andrew Hill's Passing Ships  Sure to Please, Both Musically and Sonically

Some people collect Tone Poet Blue Note reissues the way some people amass baseball cards. I know more than a few Tone Poet enthusiasts who, after buying one, had a Bert Lahr Lay’s potato chip moment and couldn’t stop buying them—at least until they encountered the late pianist/composer/arranger Andrew Hill’s Blue Note debut Black Fire (ST-84151/B0029975-01).

Unlike the toe-tapping, easy to assimilate, groove oriented Blue Notes like Lee Morgan’s slinky The Sidewinder (ST-84157/0743886) issued AAA cut by Kevin Gray as part of the “Classic Vinyl Series”, Black Fire presents a more challenging listen. It’s where a few TP collectors emailed to say “Help”! I think I need to sell this one”. My advice is always to give it more of a chance or put it on the shelf for future listening. It surely won’t lose value.

I’m thinking had those having trouble with Black Fire began their Hill listening with the Passing Ships—an arranging tour de force featuring a six piece horn/woodwind/reed section anchored by the rhythm section of Hill on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Lenny White on drums, they’d become quick fans, even if they first were startled by the definitely non-“Blue Note” more modern sound.

This Tone Poet release on a three-sided 2 LP set is the album’s first vinyl release. A stereo mix sat in the vault and after playing it in 1974, based on the late Mr. Hill’s recommendation, Michael Cuscuna located and listened to the stereo tape, which he described as a “train-wreck” in the annotation to the 2003 CD issue sourced from a remix of the original 1969 RVG multi-channel recording, which I imagine was laid down on 8 tracks. The “train-wreck” tape was intended only as a rough mix.

For this vinyl release, Malcolm Addey produced last year a new analog mix using the same multi-track tape and the sonic results: super-dynamic, timbrally fulfilling, and spatially almost alarming alone will immediately demand your attention, though so will the music performed by the aforementioned rhythm section and trumpeters Woody Shaw and Dizzy Reece, trombonist Julian Priester, French hornist Bob Northern (who died a year ago tomorrow, May 31st 2020), tuba and bass clarinetist Howard Johnson (who died this past January) and soprano and tenor saxophonist, flutist and bass clarinetist Joe Farrell.

If you need an easy to grasp intro try the title tune (not that the opener “Sideways” isn’t a melodic “grabber”) or for one that’s “melt in your ears” gorgeous, rhythmically, melodically and spatially with Farrell’s tenor just about in your lap, try the latin-beat “Noon Tide” that opens side two. Hill’s piano solo will do you in and Carter’s bass lines alone are worth the price of admission. Farrell’s sensuous, simmering flute lines at the tune’s conclusion should finish you off. There’s little that’s overly cerebral or mathematical about this track or this entire album for that matter, mixed “in living color” (even the gatefold photos usually in Tone Poet black and white, are in color).

Highest recommendation, musically and sonically! One caution: Kevin Gray cut this one appropriated hot so be sure your stylus is super-clean and that your VTF is correctly set or you might experience some break-up that I guaranty you is not the record’s fault.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Tables and Tubes's picture

Well,I don't like potato chips, but I have purchased every Tone Poet release.
Passing Ships is a good release, but it is a bit too "arranged" for my tastes.As for Black Fire,it is one of my favorite Andrew Hill sessions!


jazz's picture

I fully agree, couldn’t have said it better!

Eskisi's picture

I am scared to try any of the other tracks.

xtcfan80's picture

Yes..... this music is too scary..... stay away before your mind gets exposed to something different.....

Jan5512's picture

I agree that Passing Ships is a great introduction to Andrew Hill, it was mine. His later stuff became even more arranged but also free form avant-garde, check out “Beautiful Day”. One of the true innovators in jazz.
By the way, this release sounds amazing.

swimming1's picture

Really couldn't understand Andrew? Whew ,no wonder we're in such a mess. If you can't stand the heat,get outta da fire!

swimming1's picture

Better not listen to Trane,Hawk, the Prez,Duke,the Bird,Freddie Hubbard,Sun ra,Monk,Eric,Haden,Woody,Niles even, or they may end up with a burnt weenie sandwich!

Eskisi's picture

...because people who question (insult?) others' musical tastes do not know quite that you always need a space after a comma and never before.

Grant M's picture

It's amazing that he's still working, at nearly 90 years old! One of the industry true veterans, started back at Abbey Road in the 1950s, and moved to New York and started work at Bell Sound in 1968!

DFacobbre's picture

I've got every Tone Poet release, even dupes of a few I especially like. Black Fire is a favorite.