One of the seminal artists of the New York Loft jazz scene, composer and multi-instrumentalist Julius Hemphill (1938-1995) left a diverse legacy that lives on through the tireless efforts of saxophonist Tim Berne and multi-instrumentalist Marty Ehrlich. Hemphill's earthy forays with cellist Abdul Wadud in the early seventies broke new stylistic ground, unapologetically drawing inspiration from funk, soul and R&B. His inventive writing for unconventional instrumental combinations was further realized as a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet and leader of his own saxophone sextet in the 1990s.
An ardent supporter, Berne featured Hemphill on his expansive 1992 JMT recording Diminutive Mysteries (Mostly Hemphill), and reissued Hemphill's legendary 1977 solo saxophone record Blue Boyé on his own Screwgun imprint. An original member of Hemphill's saxophone sextet, Ehrlich has continued to lead the group in the new millennium, occasionally recording Hemphill's small combo pieces with his own groups.
Things Have Got To Change features three of Hemphill's compositions and a number of Ehrlich's originals inspired by Hemphill's writing. Scored for a unique lineup, these tunes mirror Hemphill's iconoclastic work with Wadud, augmenting primal blues cries and funky backbeats with an ethereality derived from the vivid blend of alto, trumpet, cello, and trap set. Cellist Erik Friedlander provides an effervescent air to these folksy pieces, his buoyant pizzicato and sinuous arco complimenting Ehrlich's plangent melodies and sonorous tone. From silver-toned lyricism to plunger-muted growls, James Zollar's expressive trumpet stylings find accord with the leader's circuitous cadences, while Pheeroan AkLaff's elastic drumming provides the quartet with an understated foundation.
Ehrlich's varied originals embody Hemphill's pithy spirit, ranging from the carefree ebullience of the jaunty opener "Rites Rhythms" and the swirling contrapuntal discourse of "On The One" to the melancholy rumination of the epic tone poem "Some Kind of Prayer." The quicksilver cantilevered rhythms and blistering collective interplay of "Song For Tomorrow" parallel the acerbic intensity and emotional conviction of "From Strength to Strength," embodying the album's titular theme of political action.
This date is especially notable for its inclusion of two previously unrecorded Hemphill compositions, "Dung" and "Slices Of Light." The former is a bracing hard-bop styled vehicle, fraught with harsh angles and skewered rhythms, the later a jubilant exploration of tortuous themes. The date ends with a rousing run through Hemphill's blues-funk masterpiece, "Dogon A.D.," fueled by primal downbeats and cathartic horn soliloquies.
Throughout the session, Friedlander and akLaff maintain a supple grip on an array of serpentine rhythms, while Ehrlich and Zollar sing these celebratory themes with palpable urgency, lending credence to the album's title. Things Have Got To Change is a vibrant, timely addition to Ehrlich's oeuvre and a potent reminder of the continuing relevance of Hemphill's visionary work.
Personnel: Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone; James Zollar: trumpet; Erik Friedlander: cello; Pheeroan akLaff: drums.