WHEN JAZZ critics get around to compiling their year-end "best" lists, it's a safe bet that tenor saxophonist Buck Hill's latest release, "Capital Hill," will be the only inclusion that contains a version of "Hail to the Redskins." Hill exploits the indelible melody just long enough to make his hometown allegiances known before moving forward with the kind of hard-nosed, headlong momentum John Riggins would admire.
That same vitality and juggernaut force, combined with soulful balladry neatly enhanced by pianist Barry Harris and bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Freddie Waits, also makes the rest of "Capital Hill" worthy of its name. From the opening track, an invigorating arrangement of the Sonny Rollins standard "Tenor Madness," to the closing number, a sassy reprise of Miles Davis's sauntering theme "Vierd Blues," Hill turns in one supremely confident performance after another. But overall the emphasis this time around isn't on the sheer intensity and power that generally characterize Hill's albums so much as on the tender and lyrical side of his personality.
Indeed, apart from "Tenor Madness," it's the ballads that stand out most, particularly the Gershwin classic "Someone to Watch Over Me" and Billy Strayhorn's melancholy musing "Chelsea Bridge." Both tunes, equipped with elegantly ascending melodies, take on a noir-ish breathiness and beauty thanks to Hill's increasingly warm and seductive touch.
BUCK HILL -- "Capital Hill" (Muse). Appearing Friday and Saturday at Trumpets.