ANDREW HILL — Lift Every Voice (review)

ANDREW HILL — Lift Every Voice album cover Album · 1970 · Exotica Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Sean Trane
A bit of a UFO in AH’s discography, LEV is, as its title indicates, a vocal-jazz album, although I wouldn’t call it sung-jazz proper. It develops some highly interesting choir vocals use and techniques that were most likely then-groundbreaking. Ok the music behind these great vocal arrangements (courtesy of Lawrence Marshall) is not always that advanced, but it’s the marriage between the two sections which make the interest of the present album. So as one of AH’s last album on Blue Note, LEV is made of a quintet and that already-mentioned small choir section.

You’d probably think that this is a relatively conventional soul-jazz album, but beware, because if the quintet is mostly “standard”, the real surprise comes from the extremely original and inventive use of the choir. Opening on the enthralling 8-mins Hey, the album plunges into intense grooves and spell-binding choir chants, something that vaguely resembles Magma’s Kobaian-vocals realm, but the music remains firmly jazz. Indeed, the choir chants and drones and shouts, often wordlessly, and you’ll find yourself mostly paying attention to their incantations, rather than the quintet, even if Andrew makes sure that it is the quintet’s album, rather that the choir’s, which in the context of the original version of LEV is not always fortunate for us.

For once, the RVG remaster reissue offer an interesting slew of bonus tracks (almost doubling the album’s running time), something different than alternate takes. Although these tracks come from a completely different session (from a year later) and feature a totally different line-up (save AH naturally) that includes Ben Riley, Ron Carter and Bennie Maupin to name just those, and what a difference it makes, too. The choir used is mainly as the same compositional tool as the previous session though, and in sonic terms, these bonus tracks melt right in with the original album, but the compositions and the intense execution are so superior to the previous session, that I don’t understand that this was never released bore or was released instead of the previous session.

Don’t get me wrong, here it’s not like LEV is a shooting star from another galaxy, but the asteroid did came from rarely explored outer reaches. I’ve heard similar choral experiments and not only from the Kobaian cluster (which probably heard this album before exploring their own space), but also I believe from Ornette. Anyway, maybe not that essential a listen, but it’s well worth the detour, that it is al least a must-hear.
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