A 1997 release of note, “The Julius Hemphill Sextet” under the artistic direction of woodwind specialist Marty Ehrlich is a celebration of the late great saxophonist-composer Julius Hemphill and also features Ehrlich performing with his usual arsenal of saxophones, clarinets and flutes. Along with the top-flight sax section of Sam Furnace, Andy Laster, Andrew White, Gene Ghee and Alex Harding, the band take 16 Hemphill compositions under their wing while capturing the spirit of the late artist yet also performing as if these pieces were written specifically for this outing. Throughout, the Sextet maintains a personal if not thoroughly sonorous approach to these pieces gathered from Hemphill’s considerable body of work. Marty Ehrlich’s gorgeous alto sax lines on “What I Know” atop a poignant yet highly disciplined sax section is just one highlight of a recording that is brimming with ingenuity, soul and depth. Yet it all boils down to the blues, as in Hemphill’s “Sojourner’s Blues: Ain’t I A Woman?”. Here, tenor saxophonist Gene Ghee performs gutsy, soul-drenched lines in collaboration with the harmonious sax section who belt out the blues with an even-tempered attack, yet employ multiphonics and razor-sharp choruses with an emphasis on subtle tonalities. “A Bitter Glory” features the lamentable, introspective lines of alto saxophonist Andy Laster that further exemplifies Hemphill’s acute comprehension of traditional jazz forms and ideologies interwoven with his legendary flair for melodic invention.
At Dr. King’s Table is a moving tribute, yet the Julius Hemphill Sextet rapidly develop a distinct persona that is clearly their own, as the band’s certitude and warm sentiment is displayed in resplendent fashion. * * * * ½
Marty Ehrlich; Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute, Alto Flute, Clarinet & Bass Clarinet: Sam Furnace; Alto & Soprano Sax: Andy Laster; Alto Sax & Flute: Gene Ghee; Tenor sax: Andrew White; Tenor Sax: Alex Harding; Baritone Sax