Andrew Hill - Compulsion (1965), 8/10

Music that leans so heavily into improvisation and freedom can be daunting or even off-putting but great free jazz albums get better and better with time. That is certainly the case for Compulsion and it serves as Andrew Hill’s most ambitious and most successful record. Hill’s piano is remarkably rhythmic, and the percussionists provide a collectively hypnotic yet tribally influenced experience. John Gilmore exhibits his influence from his time with Sun Ra, making his impact on the record significant and the results unsurprisingly aligned with his previous contributions such as When Sun Comes Out and The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra two of his best albums. Hill’s work on the keys truly provides the backbone to the album despite the hypnotic and consistently tight feeling emanating from the three percussionists. The piano and compositions themselves sound better in this form consisting of a large group of musicians compared to Hill’s chamber works that focus on unique arrangements rather than grandiose musical statements. The opening title track covers so much ground that it initially appears and feels cold and technical, yet with time reveals a remarkably organized and surprisingly coherent emotional theme. Throughout the entirety of the record, some distinct passages and themes make themselves clearly and loudly seen and heard, telling a primal but brilliant story. The introductory motif can be deceiving but quickly diverts into the ominous and manic energy that persists through most of the album. Multiple bass players add a very interesting dynamic to the onslaught of sound in certain passages just as they do for the sparse moments, especially during the second half. Once the album begins to sound comprehensible it is hard not to love, although this can admittedly take significant time to take place without attentive and active listening. The interwoven moments of nostalgic bebop influence are charming and add a nice touch to an otherwise dauntingly dark record. Hubbard is given a chance to shine during “Premonition” along with the bass and Simmons’ congas. The tracks are all worthwhile for different reasons and while the first half is more immediately engaging, particularly the opening sections, this is a consistently moving album. African, spiritual, bebop, and classical influences can all be heard and felt making it a uniquely ambitious but successful blending of these genres, something previously attempted but rarely achieved at this level. The closing track “Limbo” again hearkens to Hill’s influences but takes things one step further in a completely new direction as with the rest of the album. One of the strongest instances of free jazz in the sixties during the peak of the genre.