Over nearly half a century, composer-arranger-pianist-ensemble leader Andrew Hill gained international jazz renown for his uniquely original music, which is by turns dark, fragile, funny, stark, unforgettably tuneful, percussive, insightful, oblique, transparent and mysterious. Giants like Art Tatum, Bud Powell and above all Thelonius Monk influenced Hill's style that was marked by heavy chromatics, complex chords, flowing and legato phrasing as well as by Ravel and Debussy; classic contemporary music recalls on several composition arrangements and improvisations.
Blue Note Record signed Hill in 1963. The first album was Black Fire whose music was specifically conceived for a Quartet featuring the young Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone along with the veteran Roy Haynes on drums and Richard Davis on bass.
The label started off to produce the so-called " New Thing " from a new vague of musicians like Eric Dolphy, Joe Henderson, Larry Young, Bobby Hutcherson and Andrew Hill.
The breakdown record was Point of Departure released in 1964 involved Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet and alto saxophone. This is a very innovative project compared to the previous records from Blue Note: the atonal compositions are performed by a great lineup involving also Tony Williams on drums, Joe Henderson and Kenny Dorham on brass section.
Passing Ships ends up in 1969 the Hill's period at Blue Note. Hill recruited a quite unusual large ensemble: Howard Johnson on tuba, Joe Farrell on bass clarinet, alto flute, English horn, soprano sax, tenor sax, Bob Northern on French horn and the underrated Woody Shaw and Dizzy Rice on trumpets provide excellent work, turning out some ferocious solos. The compositions on this recording are what one would expect from Hill: colorful orchestration, ingenious use of polyrhythms, and an almost dialectical development of ideas underneath solos. The recording is excellent and sounds as if it could have been recorded yesterday. Hill's solos do not disappoint either, as "horizontal" and percussive as they have been in other Blue Note dates
The band sounds both crackling and soothing. The tunes Sideways and Cascades feature late Coltrane-like improvisations from Joe Farrell's tenor saxophone and blowing solos from Dizzy Rice and above all Woody Shaw. Joe Farrell's English horn introduces the sweet melody of Passing Ships; Julian Priester develops the theme on trombone backed by the rookie Lenny White on drums and the legend Ron Carter on acoustic bass.
Passing Ships represents a real masterwork in Hill's discography and music period.