Julius Hemphill: Sixteen
Julius Hemphill (alto saxophone)
Live from the New Music Cafe (Music & Arts 731)
Joe Bonadio (drums).
Composed by Julius Hemphill.
Recorded: live at the New Music Cafe, New York City, Sept. 27, 1991
Rating: 94/100 (learn more)
After leaving the World Saxophone Quartet the year before, Julius Hemphill had a fulfilling 1991, one of his last productive years before the onset of the illness that would soon take his life. By 1993, Hemphill could no longer play following heart surgery, and he died in 1995. However, in 1991 Hemphill won two Bessie Awards for his dance compositions for both The Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Promised Land and Long Tongues: A Saxophone Opera. During that year, Hemphill also recorded the first album by his all-saxophone sextet, and also resumed his rewarding musical relationship with the masterful cellist Abdul Wadud, with whom he had not recorded since two dates n the '70's.
The track "Sixteen" vividly exhibits the close interplay between Hemphill, Wadud, and drummer Joe Bonadio (the latter had performed in the orchestra of Long Tongues). The piece starts out with Hemphill playing the stair-stepping theme with ample space left for Bonadio's lusty fills. The altoist quickly enters his solo, backed by Wadud's accompaniment that shifts continuously from walking bass-like lines to plucked accents and bowed patterns. Hemphill never veers far from the blues-based foundation that prevailed in so much of his playing. He changes tempo and intensity of attack frequently, as he freely but explicitly examines the initial thematic material. Bonadio's drum improvisation is tonally nuanced and thoughtfully constructed. Wadud's catchy pizzicato vamp launches his own extended statement, which alternates between walking lines and oblique motifs, with the essence of country blues lurking not far from the surface. Hemphill returns with more blues-drenched phrases supported by Bonadio's backbeat, before evolving into less grounded microtonal exploration leading up to the reprise.
Reviewer: Scott Albin