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The Julius Hemphill Sextet: The Hard Blues

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The Julius Hemphill Sextet celebrates its namesake on The Hard Blues, a funky and groovy outing by this all-saxophone group. Released by one of the more ambitious labels currently on the jazz scene, Portugal-based Clean Feed, the album features thirteen of the late saxophonist's memorable compositions. As with the World Saxophone Quartet, drum and bass are missing, leaving the generation of rhythm and its infectious byproducts to the group's interactions. They achieve a unique counterpoint and call-and-response cadence that surprises and delights.

Of the six players on The Hard Blues, three recorded with Hemphill on 1991's Fat Man and The Hard Blues—Marty Ehrlich, Sam Furnace (who recently passed away), and Andrew White. Ehrlich, perhaps Hemphill's most ardent disciple, is also the musical director on this album, proving his comprehension of Hemphill's approach to jazz. Recorded at the Jazz em Agosto in Portugal, the group presents itself as a hard-charging, soulful ensemble through the entire set of songs.

High impact pleasantries like "Otis' Groove" and "Band Theme" are enjoyable, though the intricacy and sophistication of Hemphill's work is better represented on their more downbeat offerings, like "Opening," "Touchic'," "Three-Step," "JiJi Tune," and "Fat Man." The unabashed beauty and sincerity of Ehrlich's solo work on "Georgia Blue" and the group's reverence on "Spiritual Chairs" are also worth mentioning.

Except for the nine-minute title track that concludes the album, most of The Hard Blues flows quickly, exposing its various compartments with joyful flair. A worthy celebration to a composer and a visionary who left us too early, The Hard Blues reminds that the best in jazz still lives, despite the obituaries.

Track Listing: Otis' Groove; Opening; Touchic'; Three-Step; Rites; Revue; JiJi Tune; Fat Man; Band Theme; Georgia Blue; Mr. Critical; Spiritual Chairs; The Hard Blues

Personnel: Marty Ehlrich- alto, soprano sax; Sam Furnace- alto, soprano sax; Aaron Stewarttenor sax; Alex Harding- baritone sax; Andy Laster- alto sax; Andre White- tenor sax

Title: The Hard Blues | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records

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