Dave Hill – New World CD

I never really thought about it like this before, but it seems like most guitar player contemporary jazz artists fall into one of two camps: the ones that can really play well and the ones that can really write well. When you find guitarists that can do both equally well, those are the ones to watch – and listen to again and again. Dave Hill falls into that small “plays AND writes really well” category.

“New World”, his second release, starts off like a journey, with Russell Ferrante’s “mystic kalimba” keyboards inviting you into the opening track “Waiting For You”.  Hill’s guitar softly and thoughtfully grows through the whole track, which moves to a gospel-like groove with a cool fretless bass solo from producer Jimmy Haslip, and Ferrante taking everyone to church. From there on, things just keep heating up.

“Kneedeep” is the cool and quirky “funky spy” kind of composition that one might expect out of John Scofield, and Hill delivers the kind of “blues meets Brecker” licks that gave Scofield the place he enjoys on the jazz map. Drummer Will Kennedy turns up the temperature as it drives towards the coda, seasoned by a sparse and totally hip piano dialogue from Ferrante on their way out the exit. Title track “New World” is contemporary jazz radio friendly enough to get Hills’ musical foot in the airwave door, it’s memorably melodic while still having depth.

Fans of the early Yellowjackets records will be reminded of Robben Fords’ intelligent but bluesy phasing in Hill’s playing throughout the record. In fact, the one non-original tune on the CD is the old Yellowjackets / Ford chestnut “Rush Hour”, with Hill’s early ‘60s red Gibson ES-335 effortlessly floating over the changes with that sweet bluesy singing “Carlton / Ford” tone. In fact, I think that is the one thing that consistently hit me upon listening to this CD was how elegantly Hill solos over all the subtle but complex chord progressions in his tunes. It’s a pleasure to hear someone with this kind of command of harmony and melody on a difficult to master instrument like the guitar.

Hill’s Los Angeles live band shines on the funkster “Soul Twister”, sporting a burning solo from Michael Bluestein on keyboards over the greasy groove of Hussain Jeffrey on bass and drummer Tim McIntyre. “Oak Harbor”, a flowing and expansively developing piece reminiscent of some of the more Americana style things from the Pat Metheny Group, adds LA session ace percussionist Bully Hulting and master saxman Andy Suzuki to the unit.

This is one of those records that you listen to and keep changing your mind as to which is your favorite tune as each new one comes up, but I think for me it was the closing track “All The Times”. A beautiful solo piece that shows Hill also possesses an almost classical guitarist touch on the electric guitar, it leaves you with a hauntingly beautiful reminder of where your journey into Dave Hills’ “New World” has taken you.

Doug Perkins
Feb. 26, 2010