As the paradigm of the swing clarinet becomes outdated, indicative of a genre somewhat frozen in time rather than the high point in a continuum, clarinetists like Hill, Don Byron and Michael Moore have broadened the instrument’s palette by assuming impressionistic roles or by reaching out for out-of-the-mainstream cultural references like klezmer, even as someone like Gianluigi Trovesi remains true to his native country’s folk music. In Hill’s case, he has decided upon the blending of Middle Eastern and Western musical conventions. The result is that reflects elements of Hill’s own personality, such as "Albuterol" (or should it be "Albuterol™"?), certainly not asthmatic in execution as Hill exhibits exceptional breath control, his appealing melody puckishly becoming one of the few tunes anywhere to extol the virtues of a formulary drug, even though perhaps it suggests Hill’s familiarity with the inhalation aerosol. In any case, "Albuterol" turns out to be the track on Narrow Streets that proceeds along the narrow streets of jazz, particularly as bassist Stephan Kerecki pops the walking bass notes that provide the foundation for Hill’s syncopated and raspy improvisation.
The other tunes of Narrow Streets, concise yet substantive, remain consistent with Hill’s absorption of a wide array of musical forms that the clarinet as a European and Middle Eastern instrument touches. Indicative of his immersion into the possibilities afforded by these forms was Hill’s involvement in the band of Bay-area Persian musician Aldoush Alpanian, who continued to work with Hill on successive projects. "Question & Answer" isn’t the Pat Metheny piece by the same name, but instead is a product of Hill’s imagination, involving unconventional meter and winding melody with its displaced accents that have become a Hill trademark. "Nervous Conversations," the CD’s first track, starts ominously with hushed microtonal background textures embellished by wind chimes and other assorted percussion before Hill makes his attack-and-pause statement leading to a resulting decompression of the music as it unwinds into billowing streams of notes.
Though short, but still succinct, Hill’s recording is as distinctive as it is challenging, refusing to accede to listeners’ expectations, but rather leading them through musical pathways of Hill’s own choosing.