Andrew Hill has long been a phantom presence in jazz. Heralded in the early ’60s as one of the most original jazz pianists since Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, Hill created an idiosyncratic blend of lean melodies, impressionistic harmonies and crosshatched rhythms on such classic albums as 1964’s Point of Departure (now a Blue Note reissue). Commercial success, however, eluded him, and Hill was left to pursue his muse in obscurity.
Eternal Spirit marks Hill’s long-delayed emergence as part of the jazz mainstream. Kicking things off in a minor mode with “Pinnacle,” he establishes an ethereal mood with subtly shifting meters and angular melodic lines that are strangely rhapsodic. A feeling of melancholy pervades even such up-tempo tunes as “Samba Rasta” and “Tail Feather,” with Hill breaking up the toe-tapping rhythms with pauses and asides and lacing his arrangements with gently skewed harmonies.
Drummer Ben Riley, a former sideman with Monk, and bassist Rufus Reid keep the music swinging despite the quirky changes in rhythm, and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson provides liquid counterpoint with his rippling runs and expansive vibrato. Alto saxophonist Greg Osby serves as an ideal front man for Hill’s compositions, combining an off-center approach to melody with a romantic tone.
Throughout the session, Hill displays his mastery of the art of illusion. Rarely stating a theme outright, he reveals a fondness for fragmentary phrases that leave the listener constantly guessing what will come next. Though his music acknowledges the wisdom of tradition, Hill exemplifies the restless quest in jazz to constantly rediscover the spirit of surprise. (Blue Note)