'Mastery and transgression' in music that bridges genres

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, April 20, 2024

'Mastery and transgression' in music that bridges genres
The Boyé Multi-National Crusade for Harmony.

by Seth Colter Walls

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Julius Hemphill was a vigorous force in American music from his first public performances and recordings in the late 1960s until his death, at 57, in 1995. Whether playing saxophone or flute — or even, as on his overdubbed solo “Blue Boyé,” both at once — he blended folk traditions with a joyous avant-garde edge.

Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, he heard R&B-infused jazz and country twang. The booklet included with a new seven-disc set of Hemphill’s compositions, many previously unreleased and drawn from his archive at New York University, quotes from an interview about those early years: “It was musically rich,” he said. “I could hear Hank Williams coming out of the jukebox at Bunker’s, the white bar. And Louis Jordan, Son House and Earl Bostic from the box at Ethel’s, the Black bar across the street.”

Hemphill may have started with those related, if segregated, reference points. But the widely varied recordings on the new set — “The Boyé Multi-National Crusade for Harmony,” issued by New World Records and named after one of Hemphill’s touring projects — show how thoroughly he adapted and reinvigorated those early sources.

The first two discs contain some formative late-’70s small-group recordings, as well as an astonishing duo set (date and location unknown) by Hemphill and cellist Abdul Wadud, one of his crucial collaborators. On the track “Rhapsody,” you can hear Hemphill’s alertness on soprano saxophone as Wadud switches between thick, strummed playing and lyrical bowing. Hemphill’s melodic sensibility, supple even when spare, is present throughout, even when his sound production turns piping or frenzied.

Before Hemphill’s emergence as a bandleader, he came into contact with other inquisitive, improvising players like trumpeter Lester Bowie. Hemphill began experimenting with theatrical works, too. He started his own label, and in St. Louis helped launch Black Artists Group (known as BAG) alongside poets, dancers and other saxophonist-composers, like Oliver Lake. After a 1971 BAG performance was interrupted by a bomb threat, it was a Hemphill score that was heard after the all-clear had been given. (That episode is recounted in Benjamin Looker’s book “Point From Which Creation Begins,” a crucial history of BAG and resource about Hemphill’s work.)

Hemphill later joined forces again with Lake in the World Saxophone Quartet, which played open-minded, poly-genre spaces like Brooklyn Academy of Music. Devoted to jazz but not exclusively defined by it, Hemphill wrote solo and chamber works for virtuoso pianist Ursula Oppens, his partner toward the end of his life. (Search out the Tzadik release “One Atmosphere” to hear the vivacious piano quintet that gives that album its title.)

The New World box set also contains a disc of Hemphill chamber music. In addition to a work written for Oppens, it includes the premiere release of a 2007 Daedalus Quartet performance of “Mingus Gold,” a 1988 composition in which Hemphill arranged tunes by Charles Mingus.

These are not straight transcriptions, as the take on “Better Get Hit in Your Soul” proves. During its opening, the cello part occasionally comes close to Mingus’ own bass motifs, though it also diverts from the source material, with the other strings pausing to meditate before the quartet digs into Mingus’ theme with gusto.

Hemphill’s experimental yet songful approach connected him to adventurous pop artists; he joined Lake on tour with Björk in support of her album “Debut” in 1993-94. And like Lake, Hemphill was apt to say that his varied pursuits were not evidence of a scattershot sensibility but rather of a complex, integrated purpose. The liner notes for the new box set include one of his better known statements: “Well, you often hear people nowadays talking about the tradition, tradition, tradition. But they have tunnel vision in this tradition. Because tradition in African American music is wide as all outdoors.”

Since his death, Hemphill’s influence has continued to make that vista ever wider. His most famous composition, “Dogon A.D.,” with its addictive, loping 11/16 percussion groove, was memorably covered by pianist Vijay Iyer on his breakout 2009 trio album, “Historicity.” Player-composers like Tim Berne and Marty Ehrlich, who wrote the liner notes for the new release, also swear by Hemphill.

So why aren’t his contributions better known? One reason is that his most celebrated album, also called “Dogon A.D.” (1972), has spent long stretches out of print. (It was available on CD for a brief period, in the 2010s, but now that version and the original LP command high prices on the secondhand market.) Another reason likely has to do with the policing of the border between jazz and classical traditions (a subset of the larger issues of racial exclusion in classical music). Most classical programmers are likely unaware of the breadth of Hemphill’s legacy. His music has occasionally been played on predominantly classical series like the Composer Portraits at the Miller Theater at Columbia University, but he is usually perceived as a jazz artist, full stop.

But while his music can swing hard, he also explored airier, less propulsive realms. One lengthy track on New World’s disc of chamber music, “Unknown Title No. 1,” documents a 1981 performance by a wind and brass quintet Hemphill conducted.

The unhurried, pungent material heard at the outset is far away from “Dogon A.D.,” “Rhapsody” or the glosses on Mingus. After detours into riotous improvisation, the performance eventually hurtles into a bumptious, tuba-driven conclusion. But its route there is distinctive in the available Hemphill catalog.

Back when Vijay Iyer’s cover of “Dogon A.D.” was earning him plaudits, he described in a profile how seeing Hemphill in concert in 1991 had been a transformative experience. Hemphill’s 1988 album “Big Band” “dazzles me as much today as it did then,” Iyer said in an email, also noting Hemphill and BAG’s important contributions during the “period of Black artists’ self-determination initiatives,” which also included the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago.

Relating the experience of watching a 1992 duo performance by Hemphill and Wadud, later released as the album “Oakland Duets,” Iyer wrote, “I was astonished by the sense of simultaneous mastery and transgression. I think that describes his music in a nutshell.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

Today's News

February 7, 2021

Facing deficit, Met considers selling art to help pay the bills

Photography in the raw

A natural work of art may be hiding among Indian cave masterpieces

It's not every day we get a new blue

Exhibition of four monumental new paintings by Anselm Kiefer opens at Gagosian

Rarely seen artworks reveal untold stories in new exhibition

Works from the collection of Allen & Beryl Freer to be offered at auction

For this show, the artist went overboard

Fashion mogul Peter Nygard denied bail by Canadian judge

HBO's Black Art: In The Absence of Light debuts February 9

David Nolan Gallery presents a selection of new paintings, sculptures and works on paper by Jonathan Meese

The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU presents exhibition on the work of Will Eisner

The Drawing Center opens the first museum exhibition dedicated to David Hammons's pivotal early works on paper

'Joseph Rodríguez: LAPD 1994': New book and online exhibition by the Bronx Documentary Center

Simon Patterson's exhibition 'Head to Toe' opens at Serlachius Museums in Finland

'Picasso. Figures' from Musée Picasso-Paris makes sole U.S. appearance in 2021 at Frist Art Museum

Christopher Plummer's robust final act crowned a noble career

Stevens Auction Company to offer items from three major southeastern estates

First solo museum exhibition for Chris Schanck, Detroit-based designer & Dallas native

Curated kitsch collection to be offered at Benefit Shop Foundation

"Lewis Hine, Child Labor Investigator" opens at The Dorsky Museum

World's first million-dollar Michael Jordan card drives Heritage Auctions' Modern Sports Cards event

'Mastery and transgression' in music that bridges genres

Pierre Guyotat's visual oeuvre to be donated to the Centre Pompidou

5 Tips for cleaning RV with vacuum

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

sa gaming free credit
Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful