Oct 5, 2015
One of the very first podcasts I did here at Straight No Chaser featured the music of pianist/composer Andrew Hill. It feels appropriate that as I reach the cusp of my 500th podcast, that I stop and appreciate the fiftieth anniversary of the recording of Compulsion, one of Hill’s finest works.
By 1965, Hill had recorded with Rashaan Roland Kirk, Hank Mobley and Joe Henderson, and released more than a handful of albums as a bandleader. Compared to say, Black Fire, his 1963 classic, Compulsion seems a very different kind of album. Where Black Fire is a Blue Note session to a tee – a quartet composed of Hill, Joe Henderson, Richard Davis and Roy Haynes – Compulsion begins to explore more adventurous rhythmic ground. Hill explained later that his intention was to "...construct an album expressing the legacy of the Negro tradition," and for that he would need percussion.
Compulsion ended up with just four lengthy tracks, full of fascinating improvisation that Hill would develop over the next few years. The band is top notch – Hill on piano, Freddie Hubbard (trumpet, flugelhorn), John Gilmore (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet) Cecil McBee (bass), a three-headed monster rhythm section of Joe Chambers (drums), Renaud Simmons (conga), and Nadi Qarmar (percussion), and, for the driving track “Premonition”, Davis returning as a second bass player. The music shows Hill's continued growth as a composer, as he eschews overt melody in favor of harmonic invention and texutre.
As a subtly prepared “concept album” with a distinct thematic connection between the four tracks, Compulsion stands as a mature work of art. He would record five more albums for Blue Note in the Sixties, but only two saw the light of day for at least a decade, as the label chose to either sit on them, release them under others' name (Sam Rivers) or put the tracks solely on compilation albums. .