Julius Hemphill: The Hard Blues
The Hard Blues
Julius Hemphill (alto sax)
'Coon Bid'ness (Arista-Freedom 1012)
Composed by Julius Hemphill.
Recorded: St. Louis, February 1972
Rating: 94/100 (learn more)
In ancient times, when the preferred form of recorded musical conveyance was a grooved vinyl disc called the "LP," there was a thing called the "side-length track"—a single piece of music that took up an entire side of a 2-sided disc. "The Hard Blues" is one of those: 20 minutes of raw, grooving, R&B-drenched free jazz (with a small dose of bebop) that makes up Side Two of saxophonist Julius Hemphill's classic album 'Coon Bid'ness (the acerbic title is the African-American Hemphill's deliberate co-optation of a racial slur). Free jazz was ideal for the side-length track; the better for the improvisers to stretch out ... which is, after all, what free jazz musicians are wont to do. The musicians on "The Hard Blues" pack every possible ounce of content into their allotted 20 minutes, imbuing leader Julius Hemphill's avant-soul composition with enough energy to light up Motown on Devil's Night. Other free jazz guys worked from an R&B perspective, both before and after, but few adopted as gritty an approach as Hemphill and Co. take here. Especially notable are the hyper-agile cellist Abdul Wadud, whose trebly bassline twangs and grooves simultaneously, and Hemphill himself, who puts his experience in Ike Turner's band to good use. Trumpeter Baikida Carroll is terrific as well; his almost Dolphy-esque flights are a revelation. This is rare and raw stuff of a kind seldom heard, then or now.
Reviewer: Chris Kelsey