HEY! Get updates to this and the CD and 7" blogs via Twitter: @VinylUnderbite

29 April 2017

Julius Hemphill - ''Coon Bid'ness' (Arista/Freedom)

I'm still kicking myself for missing out on the Dogon A.D. reissue last year, but at least I have this LP to enjoy whenever I'd like. I get uncomfortable saying the title but it makes sense, cause with this record, Hemphill attempts to musically interrogate the question of blackness head-on, particularly with side 1, the first half of which is fairly avant-classical in nature. The presence of a white drummer (Barry Altschul) doesn't matter, as this record opens around the slow, melodic rumblings of the altos against Abdul Wadud's cello and Hamiett Bluiett's baritone. Both 'Reflections' and 'Lyric' are careful, somber, and rather beautiful, with sonorities akin to Messiaen in places. They never stay 100% calm, though, with flutters in the corners to reveal the inherent and potential freedom of it all, perhaps described as a benevolent instability. I'm reminded a bit of Ornette Coleman's 'Sadness', but maybe that's a simplistic comparison, because these two pieces have an awareness that situates them in the mid-70s Bohemian/artistic milieu, much more than mere throwbacks to either Coleman's work or third stream jazz. 'Skin' parts 1 and 2 is where the rhythms start to kick in, with Wadud's cello sawed at like a rock guitar. It's genuinely riffy, a bit like those late 70s Ornette Coleman records only really more strident & driving than funk-leaning, and could be mistaken for a 'black' analogy to Rhys Chatham, Branca, or the minimal rock chops to come in the early 80s. The three saxophones share the soundstage and while it freqently revs into some really punchy sequences, there's enough space for everyone to explore their themes. I love the cello and Altschul is such a great player that he's able to set a pace without dominating, just like on all the stuff he did with Chick Corea. It's the B-side, 'The Hard Blues', that lets everyone stretch out the most. It feels more improvised after the tightly composed (in parts) first half, though it's not anything close to a free-for-all. Blues it is, but not in a 12-bar way (thank god), and I continue to hear rock tendencies in the way Wadud saws at his strings, and maybe the lower baritone sax contributes as well. Over 20 minutes the group comes together, comes apart, and comes back together, and they embrace dissonance wholeheartedly, and you can feel Hemphill's vision not just as a composer, but as a bandleader. There are moments in 'The Hard Blues' that recall Captain Beefheart circa Trout Mask, not necessarily as whacked-out or surreal, but in the sense of otherness, except here using blues as a crossing point for jazz instead of rock. 

No comments:

Post a Comment