Review Summary: All the pieces come together for Andrew Hill's masterwork.
The 1960s jazz scene was all about expanding the possibilities, opening new alleyways for jazz to explore. At times it seemed to be a race to the edge, with the mania bleeding over into Europe where it merged with that scene’s sensibilities, as musicians like Peter Brotzmann sought to stretch jazz’s capabilities to the extreme limits of freedom. However, Hill’s vision is not dedicated to seeing how far out there jazz can go, but instead expanding jazz by exploring its roots as deeply as possible.
On that note, we arrive here, at Andrew Hill’s masterwork, Compulsion!!!!!
. Hill is most known for working with Eric Dolphy on Hill’s own Point of Departure
, as well as being an instrumental force on records with Bobby Hutcherson and others. Point of Departure
is a wild post-bop romp that displays the minimalist excellence of Hill’s composition style, as well as his relentlessly subtle dedication to untying jazz’s roots from the bottom up without anyone noticing it’s happening. It is with Compulsion
, however, that Hill’s passion is truly lit aflame, igniting the rest of this unconventional lineup into expressive performances and channeling this energy into a unified, coherent record.
is driven by a fervor for primal African rhythms, making it a particularly percussive affair. On this record, Hill dives into his past heritage in order to pave the way for the future; he doesn’t simply fuse
tradition with modernism, he investigates their inherent, tangled connection. Joe Chambers is the drummer, augmented here by two extra percussionists playing, amongst others, African drums and congas. Hill gets in on the act, treating his piano as a percussion instrument and allowing his chording to flow freely and often chaotically. This whirlwind spirit pushes Chambers, and the duo’s trippy rhythmic interplay, dancing amongst the polyrhythmic complexity of the traditional African percussive team, gives the record a completely unique bed of sound. This theme ties the pieces together and gives Hill’s crew a launch pad for their solos and aural explorations.
Which brings me to the rest of the performers on this album. While the record is clearly Hill’s brainchild, no jazz session can launch successfully without the perfect lineup to bring its ideas to life with conviction and animation. Given Hill’s own idiosyncratic sensibilities, it seems important that whomever he recruited for this record, they would have to be musicians who could tango with the in-out push-shove; musicians with a solid grasp on tradition but with a third eye looking towards the future, striving for the unknown…
Enter John Gilmore, forgotten monarch of the avant garde and one of the tenor saxophone’s most imposing explorers. Gilmore is known as Sun Ra’s most devout sideman, having played very little outside of Ra’s group. But, of all the sessions Gilmore laid down in the 60s, for Ra or otherwise, this one is certainly among the best. Gilmore works perfectly with Hill, jumping “in” and “out” like his mind was fractured between sanity and lunacy at birth. Alongside Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, the two horns weave lines of haunting freedom. Hubbard is a captivating trumpeter, but his traditional nature always seems to hold him back on the freer jazz sessions; with Hill directing the show, though, Hubbard feels perfectly at home, in fact providing some of the most unrestrained displays of passion on the entire disc and allowing the beauty of his unique melodicism to show through in unorthodox ways.
Of the four cuts here, all but one blaze along in a volcanic fashion, ready to burst with free energy. Only “Premonition” slows things down into a brooding calm. This track features bass maestro Richard Davis in place of Cecil McBee, switching between evocative, complex bowed textures and his trademark angular fingerstyle playing. Hill opens the piece with the most tranquil instance of piano on the entire record, immediately introducing a foggy respite from the unrelenting driving rhythm of the previous tracks. Hubbard then has a mournful duo with Davis, accented by sporadic percussion hits before Hill storms back in on piano, setting the stage for Gilmore, who makes a godly appearance on the bass clarinet. The two, helped by the atmospheric clinking of an African thumb piano, evoke strange images as they explore the interconnecting textures of their instruments, drifting into a dreamy haze that eventually morphs into a ghostly ending theme between trumpet, bass clarinet, and subtle, rolling percussion.
The more upbeat tracks keep the energy high throughout the disc. Hill’s playing is crushing, yet full of movement, dense with dissonance and imbued with bird-like agility. One of the most intense sections of the disc comes in the title cut as Gilmore’s tenor sax solo mounts all the melodic tension it had been implying and rides towards the sun with squalls of ecstasy as washes of pounding percussion punctuate his wails, with Hill’s twinkling, percussive piano trailing off into the ether. Gilmore’s climax rides into a dangerous, frenzied restatement of the main theme, with desperate screams from the trumpet punctuating a dense and seductive melody from Gilmore’s sax and Hill’s piano pounding mercilessly.
This record is notable not only as one of the few sessions John Gilmore recorded outside of the Sun Ra Arkestra, but also as a telling look into the obsessions of Andrew Hill and his ability as a leader. He elicits some of the most effective trumpet playing Hubbard ever laid down, and the fusion of these out-jazz giants with the primal thud of African rhythms makes for one of the most fiery, propulsive jazz performances ever set to tape.