Andrew Hill-Lift Every Voice
January 4, 2012
Lift Every Voice (Blue Note 1969)
It’s a damn shame that Andrew Hill has gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to the jazz canon. His brilliance has been overshadowed amidst an era festooned with Mingus, dual Coltranes, Miles Davis, Monk and other jazz pioneers who traveled to the edges of their art in a psychedelic age. Lift Every Voice even gets forgotten as a mere curio in his own discography in favor of earlier works like Black Fire and Point of Departure. Admittedly, those are some of my favorite Blue Note albums of the 60s, but Lift Every Voice is a unique statement of purpose from a man interested in reconciling the seeming disparate worlds of vocal choir, jazz, gospel, soul and the avant-garde. It’s alternately in love with a nostalgia for the music that formed the foundation for his love of music and an obsession with pushing the boundaries of what could be possible within the confines of jazz. It’s refreshingly cozy and familiar, yet proud of the jagged edges that develop over the course of the band’s performances.
I could bask for a long while in the interplay between Hill’s emotive piano playing and the harmonies of the nine-person choir that switches from a banshee wail to a gorgeous and mellow intersection of voice that simply floors me. Lift Every Voice also gains its primordial power from the fact that it was recorded over the course of two sessions with different backing bands. Normally, this would lead to an incongruous union, but one session was led by Lee Morgan while the other was spearheaded by Woody Shaw. Morgan was dealing with addiction at the time which may explain why his trumpet playing has a such a weary, melancholy tone. Sadly, he was murdered onstage by his common-law wife a few years later at the literal nadir of his criminally short existence on this planet. On the other hand, Shaw is all fire, piss and vinegar as he attacks each trumpet solo as if he wanted to blast each song to the moon. It doesn’t hurt that a triumvirate of Miles Davis’ fusion era lineup of Ron Carter, Bernie Maupin and Carlos Garnett have their hands in the cookie jar here too.
Don’t go looking for a reinvention of the wheel here. There is no psychedelic jazz fusion chops to be found in this 1969 session. It is simultaneously square in its love of tradition and adventurous in the ways the band tweaks the building blocks that led them all to this point in time. Lift Every Voice is grand in scope and paints a vast panorama as Hill proves once and for all that he was a stone cold genius at orchestrating eclectic strands and synthesizing it into something entirely unlike anything else of its time. It’s the kind of album one can dive into and spend hours appreciating every little nuance, twist and turn because it is so dense and complex, yet loose, simple, flowing and free. Yes, that is a bit of an oxymoron, but so is this album that lovingly engages the ghosts of its past and gazes into the crystal ball of what could have been