Theo Hill – Promethean [TrackList follows] – Posi-Tone PR8168, 54:23 [5/12/17] ****:
Generational jazz from pianist Theo Hill.
(Theo Hill – piano; Yasushi Nakamura – bass; Mark Whitfield, Jr. – drums)
Want to hear the next generation of piano jazz with a solid dose of tradition? Then you need pianist Theo Hill’s sophomore album, the 54-minute Promethean. Over the course of 11 tunes (one original and ten covers), Hill showcases his enthusiasm, his impressive keyboard skills and his vibrant way with jazz standards, classics and adaptations. In 2015 the New York City-based Hill released his debut, Theo Hill Quartet: Live at Smalls. Hill is back with a trio outing with bassist Yasushi Nakamura (his résumé includes the Mark Whitfield Family Band and stage work with Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman) and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr., the son of guitarist Mark Whitfield (Whitfield is the only hold-over from Hill’s first album).
The threesome open with a sprightly rendition of Bobby Timmons’ “This Here,” a soulful and up-beat composition Timmons penned for Cannonball Adderley. In Hill’s hands, “This Here” has a Horace Silver-esque tint with lots of action on the piano, while Whitfield and Nakamura supply a bouncing cadence. Pianists are a definite Hill influence. Herbie Hancock’s “Finger Painting” has a gradual build-up. In the cut’s first half Hill, Whitfield and Nakamura offer a mid-tempo vibe and subtle style with an emphasis on brush strokes, Hill’s piano magic and Nakamura’s gliding bass. The number’s second half finds the trio gleefully escalating the beat to a spirited pitch.
Later in the CD, the trio gets moody and fervent with Kenny Kirkland’s “Blasphemy.” Kirkland’s 1991 recording suffered from too much electric keyboard sheen, but Hill provides an acoustic arrangement with a heavier rhythmic punch. Hill sounds a bit hesitant at times, but overall “Blasphemy” is a strong performance. Hill does better with Kirkland’s “Chance” (also from Kirkland’s 1991 self-titled debut), which Hill redoes as a solo piano excursion. Hill creates suppleness and a sense of movement from start to finish. One atypical cover is composer Hale Smith’s “I Love Music.” Smith is probably best known (if at all) for his orchestral works. “I Love Music” (previously done by Betty Carter, Joe Lovano and Ahmad Jamal) is a modern-tinged and sparkling jazz tune. While it’s not the top thing on Promethean, it’s a nice presentation for Hill’s improvisational approach. On the other hand, Hill’s interpretation of Duke Pearson’s “Is That So” is sterling. Pearson did this in the mid-‘60s as a large ensemble piece.
Hill, Nakamura and Whitfield reduce the tempo and highlight musical shades with a beautiful introduction which features Hill’s lyrical notes and Nakamura’s graceful arco bass. “Is That So” then shifts to a rambunctious and bop-inclined sprint which proves Hill has studied plenty of Blue Note records. Whitfield also shines during “Is That So” with some memorable drum kit flourishes. Another CD highpoint is a fast-paced version of Chick Corea’s “Litha,” from Corea’s 1966 debut, Tones for Joan’s Bones. Corea made this into a lengthy opus, while Hill trims the selection to under seven minutes. Hill, Whitfield and Nakamura turn it all the way up, never slowing an iota on this fiery, hard bop number.
Hill steps away from embracing other pianists with two from drummer Tony Williams. First there is the simmering “Pee Wee,” which first appeared on the 1967 Miles Davis quintet LP, Sorcerer. Hill maintains a cerebral quality accentuating delicacy and finely-wrought details. The exquisite interplay between stand-up bass, Whitfield’s cymbals and brushes, and Hill’s single notes is well worth listening to. The second Williams’ cover is “Citadel,” which is a gust of high-energy jazz: avid and authoritative. Williams’ 1987 version included upfront and punchy trumpet and sax. Hill can’t match a two-horn drive on a single keyboard, but nevertheless generates heaps of heat on his piano, going for broke while supporting a melodic spin. Hill’s sole original is the five-minute “The Phoenix,” which is a forceful, hard-bop cut which fits hand-in-glove with the other bop material. If you’re a fan of the classic 1960s Blue Note years; someone who favors pianists who stress velocity and verve; and are on the outlook for an up-and-coming jazz keyboardist, then look no further.
Hey, It’s Me You’re Talking To
I Love Music
Is That So