February 23, 2006
MAKING SENSE OF THE FRACTURES
LISTENING TO CD'S WITH: Andrew Hill: One Man's Lifelong Search for the Melody in Rhythm: The jazz composer and pianist selects his favorite tunes from albums by Charlie Parker, Dave Brubeck, Max Roach and Earl Hines. (BEN RATLIFF, 2/24/06, NY Times)
His first choice of music to listen to during my visit was Charlie Parker's most famous blues, "Now's the Time," from 1945. He calls it "the perfect record."
Mr. Hill understood Parker's comment about melody as rhythm as a refutation of the "Eurocentric" music education he had grown up with — where melody is paramount, harmony accompanies it and rhythm is the last part to worry about. "It opened my mind up to many possibilities," he said. "If everything is rhythm, then you just have these rhythms on top of each other. But they're not polyrhythms or pyramids of rhythm: they're crossing rhythms."
"Now's the Time" is driven by a short, syncopated melody with a strong rhythm, putting down a bounce in almost every beat. "In that period, one could pretend that one could hear," Mr. Hill said. "You didn't have to read it to understand it. It was all around you. And I guess because it had a blues sensibility, it was inclusive of more people."
I said that given his interest in this idea of melody as rhythm, I thought he would have suggested a bebop tune with a more complicatedly rhythmic line, like Miles Davis's "Donna Lee."
"There was something lovely about hearing those fast tempos," he replied, "like 'Donna Lee' or '52nd Street Theme.' But with the blues, one doesn't have to be a space scientist to get the harmony. 'Donna Lee' has more changes — bringing you in more than letting you out."
"And then there are the parts between the drums and the saxophones," he said as an afterthought. "Through the years, I've always said to myself that when the drums and the saxophone play together, that's a dance, which is an aspect of melody as rhythm. Mm?"
Next on his list was "Blue Rondo à la Turk," from Dave Brubeck's fluke-hit 1959 album, "Time Out." The song is famous for its meter shifts: it flicks between a fast 9/8 and an easy, midtempo 4/4 swing, though it doesn't try to make them flow into each other.
"I keep hearing the different rhythm-melodies," Mr. Hill said as the song played. "The rhythm-melody that the drummer plays, for example. But this also represents when people weren't as comfortable playing rhythms like that" — he meant the 9/8 — "all the way through numbers, as they are now."
With pieces like this, Brubeck made jazz seem sensible for many who came to it cold; it's a playful piece of music, and very schematic. He phrased almost right on the beat, and kept swing roped off in the song's four-four section. When Mr. Hill plays, on the other hand, he moves around the beat, never playing on it, and not consistently behind it or ahead of it, either.
"Yes, peaceful coexistence," Mr. Hill said when I brought up his relation to the beat. "It's always been like that."
Posted by Orrin Judd at February 23, 2006 11:41 PM