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Phases and Stages

Jazz Sides

Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, April 14, 2006, Music

Piano albums are as perennial as 68-year-old ivory harvester Andrew Hill. Returning to Blue Note with another personal landmark, Time Lines, Hill possesses a unique musical vision that at this stage in his career remains unmatched. Both his compositional finesse and playing are masterfully idiosyncratic and highly sophisticated. Rejoining Hill is veteran trumpeter Charles Tolliver, who appeared on several of Hill's classic 1960s Blue Note sessions. It's not the easiest music, but once savored, it's never forgotten. Randy Weston celebrated his 80th birthday last week with the release of Zep Tepi (Random Chance), a stunning piano trio date that revisits many of his best-known compositions. Superb renditions of "Blue Moses," "Berkshire Blues," and "High Fly" are suffused with the sound and spirit of North Africa, Weston's home for many years. Likewise, Cuban piano prodigy Gonzalo Rubalcaba reinterprets several previously recorded tunes on his first Solo album for Blue Note. When not methodically deconstructing his own originals, Rubalcaba prefer tunes by fellow Cuban composers. Four improvisations, all with "Paseo" in the title, are based, in part, on John Coltrane's iconic Giant Steps and provide the template for this beautifully reflective release. Zodiac Suite: Revisited (Mary Records) finds the five-star quartet of Geri Allen, Buster Williams, Billy Hart, and Andrew Cyrille employing a new moniker: The Mary Lou Williams Collective. Their take on Ms. Williams' ambitious, mid-1940s dodecagonal suite features a tune for every sign of the zodiac, and while imbuing the music with a modern feel, they retain the essense of the original compositions in what one hopes is the first in a series of projects that highlight Williams' underappreciated work. Speaking of underappreciated, Larry Willis' impressive 40-year résumé belies his bewilderingly low profile. The Big Push (HighNote) ripples through an all-too-worthy trio date.

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