Scott Hill has selected a difficult route for pursuit of his career in music. Not only has he chosen a notoriously difficult instrument to play, one that has not commonly been included in jazz groups since the popularity of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, but also Hill has chosen to investigate the cultural allusions inherent in the clarinet, as rich in folkloric and classical Francisco-based Hill doesn’t compromise by including a standard of jazz or pop origins as a signpost to direct listeners into the suggestions as the violin. That Hill has mastered that various idioms of the clarinet, even as he remains rooted in jazz, is immediately evident on Narrow Streets.
Recorded in Paris with local musicians, the San meaning of his music. Instead, Narrow Streets
consists entirely of his original compositions, mostly approximately five minutes in length, that range from the sweetness of "Sorry Leaving" to the whirring of "You Think Too Much," around whose unresting clarinetted patterns based upon a Middle Eastern motive his back-up musicians seem tethered.
As the paradigm of the swing clarinet becomes outdated, indicative of a genre somewhat frozen in time rather than the high point in a continuum, clarinetists like Hill, Don Byron and Michael Moore have broadened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.