Andrew Hill followed his first Palmetto release, the widely acclaimed Dusk, with this remarkable live album, which was recorded during a three-night run at New York's Birdland in January 2002. Whereas Dusk featured a sextet, A Beautiful Day boasts a large ensemble, billed at Birdland and previous gigs as the Andrew Hill Sextet + 11. Despite a large regiment of horns, Hill's reflective piano figures prominently. Trumpeter Ron Horton relieves Hill of the conducting burden by serving as musical director, managing an arcane system of cues and transitions and keeping all the players, quite literally, on the same page. The band's peculiar methodology yields a wonderfully complex and layered sound, by turns strident and melodious, driven by the sturdy rhythmic backbone of bassist Scott Colley and drummer Nasheet Waits. Jose Davila reinforces the low end with his omnipresent tuba. Amid the fanfare of full band passages, contemplative interludes emerge, with varied and inspired instrumental colorings. Tenor saxophonists Greg Tardy and Aaron Stewart go toe to toe on the opening "Divine Revelation," an older piece, newly arranged by Horton. "Faded Beauty" includes radiant solos by John Savage on flute and Marty Ehrlich on bass clarinet. Horton steps forward to deliver pointed witticisms on "Belleza," baritone saxophonist J.D. Parron gets the floor on the exuberant "J Di," and Hill weaves spiky piano harmonies into the dense structures of "5 Mo" and "New Pinnochio." The epic title track winds down with an enigmatic foray by trumpeter Dave Ballou, who is joined in short order by John Savage on alto sax. With its wide array of available textures and juxtapositions, the big band proves an ideal vehicle for Hill's powerful, unclassifiable music.
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AllMusic Review by David R. Adler