There is something inherently objectionable when a billionaire acquires an artistic masterpiece by say, Leonardo DaVinci or Claude Monet, only to sequester it from public view. You might feel the same about Julius Hemphill
's recordings Dogon A.D.
(Mbari, 1972) and 'Coon Bid'ness
(Arista/Freedom, 1975). Both five star recordings, now out of print, cost a small fortune to acquire. Years ago saxophonist Tim Berne
, a disciple of Hemphill, endeavored to rescue the saxophonist's Blue Boyé
(Mbari, 1977) by rereleasing it in 1999 on Screwgun records. In that same spirit, this seven-CD boxset delivers seven-and-a-half hours of Hemphill's music. The kicker is that it is all previously unheard and unreleased until now. The boxset is a labor of love from another Hemphill disciple and former band mate Marty Ehrlich
, who organized and combed through the Julius Hemphill Archive at the Fales Library of New York University to bring together this collection.
Julius Hemphill was born in 1938 in Fort Worth, Texas home to other jazz luminaries such as Ornette Coleman
, Dewey Redman
, Ronald Shannon Jackson
, Prince Lasha
, and John Carter
. Where Coleman moved to Los Angeles, Hemphill gained prominence with the likes of Oliver Lake
and Hamiet Bluiett
in St. Louis. He cofounded The Black Artists Group (BAG) an ensemble similar to Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Hemphill eventually moved to new York, but in the wake of free jazz and the New Thing movements, record companies, especially US labels, were disinclined to follow creative music and they eventually put their resources into the neoconservative young lions. Hemphill will probably be best known for his critically successful and popular work in the World Saxophone Quartet and his saxophone sextet. None of which is heard here, nor is music from the Julius Hemphill Big Band. This box details Hemphill's work in the 1970s and 1980s in solo, duo, trio, quartet, quintet settings and works for piano, chamber music, and with poets. The music is released as a CD boxset and each disc can be purchased individually as a download. Here is a brief take on this important document.
The first disc in the collection, The Boyé Multi-National Crusade for Harmony I
, contains quartet and quintet works. Hemphill with either Olu Dara
or Baikida Carroll
on trumpet, is a combination of Warren Smith
, Phillip Wilson
, and Alex Cline
on drums with Jehri Riley's guitar, John Carter's clarinet and Abdul Wadud on cello. The music bridges Hemphill's St. Louis BAG experience with that of New York. With these tracks it is ever apparent Hemphill is composing and arranging music not so much for soloists, but for a group sound. In that way he can make four or five musicians sound like an orchestra. "Air Rings" circles in on itself while expanding ever outward. Disc six returns with the title The Boyé Multi-National Crusade for Harmony II
in trio with Wadud and drummer Michael Carvin
. This outing is an obvious tribute to Charlie Parker
with "K.C. Line," Hemphill's personalized take on bebop. His alto ignites a turbocharger of energy barely contained by his trio, only to change gears with "Testament #5" and espouse a meditative pose. Especially moving is "For Billie (for Billie Holiday)" a composition he favored and one that links him with the legendary Lester Young
Hemphill has a special relationship with cellist Abdul Wadud. He can be heard on the duo recordings Oakland Duets
(Music & Arts, 1993), Live In New York
(Red Records, 1995), and disc two of this recording from an unknown date. Hemphill switches between alto and soprano saxophones playing mostly improvised music with the cellist. Their compatible sound and congruent nature makes freely improvised music sound thoroughly composed. That same compatibility is apparent in the Roi Boyé Solo and Text
disc with Hemphill in a musical conversation with two poets and orators, K. Curtic Lyle and Malinké Elliott. Words accompany solo saxophone and flute plus an assortment of junkyard metal objects refashioned as tone generators. Hemphill's vision expands here into theatre (he often included dance in his performances) much like the the earlier experiments of poet Kenneth Patchen with jazz musicians.
Hemphill's performance at Joyous Lake, Woodstock, NY finds an all-star quartet with trumpeter Baikida, bassist Dave Holland
, and drummer Jack DeJohnette
. The concert is an occasion to expand on his original compositions with extended solos and flat-out ebullient music making. Same for The Janus Company
disc with Carroll, drummer Alex Cline, and on two tracks the addition of Wadud. Besides two lengthy and intriguing improvisations the trio plus Wadud covers Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." For many the highpoint of this collection might be the Chamber Music
disc. Opening with a solo piano piece "Parchment" Ursula Oppens negotiates the commissioned classical/new music composition before a chamber orchestra takes on "Mingus Gold," Hemphill's reimagining Charles Mingus
' music as a three-movement suite for string quartet. The disc ends with Hemphill conducting a five-piece chamber ensemble through two untitled compositions. The music leaves you convinced, as Tim Berne and Marty Ehrlich, that Julius Hemphill deserves his place among the greatest musical minds of the 20th century.
Philip Wilson: drums; Ursula Oppens: piano; Daedalus String Quartet; Janet Grice: bassoon; John Purcell: oboe, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Bruce Purse: trumpet; Jehri Riley: guitar; K. Curtis Lyle: poetry; Malinké Elliott: recitation; Alan Jaffe: guitar.