The CD consists of seven original compositions, just over forty-seven minutes of music. Hill’s pieces contain complex melodic ideas, intricate juxtapositions of the instruments within the context of the ensemble and innovative orchestrations. Hill utilizes instruments found less common in jazz such as the alto flute, bass clarinet, English horn, French horn and tuba in addition to the more usual line up of saxophones, trumpets and rhythm section. In addition to Hill’s very fine writing, Hill and his sidemen also contribute some excellent improvisatory solo work.
When one considers the historical context within which this recording was made, one may ponder its significance. It certainly is not as on the "outside" or as radical as the work of Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus or others in the avant-garde realm of the late 1950’s and 1960’s. The idea of a jazz nonet attempting to exploit different sounds from a "mid sized" ensemble had been done 20 years before Passing Ships with Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool. Hill is also not making an attempt to take jazz in a new direction, as Miles Davis was doing just months earlier with his sessions that would become the double album Bitches Brew. While Hill is not making an avant-garde push to the "outside" or taking the music in a new direction, he is demonstrating his high level of artistry and exploring further possibilities within a straight-ahead context. Certainly Hill is, as any artist, drawing upon a specific color palette to express himself in a fashion unique to himself.
On those grounds, Passing Ships is a recording worth adding to a jazz CD collection. Whether or not the recording provides a window on Hill’s artistic present from the past is perhaps moot. The recording stands on its own regardless of when it was made. It has great musical ideas, great performances by a distinguished group of musicians and it is fortunate that Passing Ships finally has come, for lovers of modern jazz, to see the light of day.