“Until we got to ‘Dedication’ the session had been extremely happy. But here a kind of melancholy settled on us. At one point, Kenny after playing that wah-wah section of his part said it brought tears to his eyes.” Andrew Hill, 1964
All five compositions on this momentous yet under-appreciated album (except, that is, by those in-the-know) are by Chicago-born Andrew Hill – a giant of bop and post-bop piano. Here is a man steeped in the Monk tradition – ‘New Monastery’, get it? – yet he is no copyist or mere acolyte; Hill is very much his own man and his music is deserving of a wider audience. He said: ‘Monk’s like Ravel and Debussy to me, in that he put a lot of personality into his playing’ and the same is true of Hill, whose style is intensely personal. His music has been labelled avant-garde, but that somehow seems to undermine his compositional skills.
The way that Hill holds ‘New Monastery’ together is typical of what makes this album so appealing. You get the sense that Hill, having written the piece, is telling the band that he knows exactly where the track is going and he’ll get them there; all they have to is weave their interlocking phrases and make magic.
In the main quote, Hill acknowledges that the session changed direction when they got to the fifth track. ‘Dedication’ was originally entitled ‘Cadaver’ and the name fits. So sparse, empty and soulless does the track feel, punctuated with small silences from Hill’s piano, that it creates a singular intensity.
Hill’s first Blue Note session, when he recorded with Joe Henderson, had been less than six months before Point of Departure; another date with Hank Mobley followed before Hill cut his own album, Black Fire, in November 1963, and then came two more albums, Smokestack and Judgement. Hill recorded four complete albums of his own compositions in the space of just four months – a case of creativity in overdrive. Yet, perversely, his creativity and compositional skills meant he appeared only infrequently as a sideman, which perhaps reduced his exposure; he much preferred to play his own music.
Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on 21 March 1964 the album features Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (flute, alto saxophone, bass clarinet), Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Andrew Hill (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Anthony Williams (drums)