Julius Hemphill: One Atmosphere (2003)
The late Julius Hemphill is pictured on the front of One Atmosphere nattily dressed and looking like someone you might meet at the crossroads, but he's holding sheet music. It's this combination of blues roots and classical formalism that was his stock and trade, both qualities represented to wonderful effect on this CD of rarely heard compositions.
The title track, composed in 1992, is the most overtly classical. Ursula Oppens' piano mimics the sharp, vibrato-free Pacifica String Quartet as they repeat successive ostinato phrases. Recorded live in concert, a slight echo on the piano reinforces the piece's overall ethereal feel. On "Savannah Suite" (1978), Hemphill disciple Marty Ehrlich leads a trio of flute, cello, and drums that's bluesier than a Mississippi fife-and-drum corps. Pheeroan AkLaff opens on conga drums imagining the sounds of the Serengeti, before joining in duet with cellist Erik Friedlander, who snaps his strings with ferocity.
"Water Music for Woodwinds" (1976), a suite in four parts lasting more than 30 minutes, puts Hemphill's compositional talent and simultaneous dedication to the rhythms and spirit of the music of the church on full display. Performed by a septet of dedicated followers including Ehrlich, Oliver Lake, Tim Berne, and J.D. Parran, the opening section features Lake's personality-rich soprano saxophone supported by Berne on baritone.
Throughout the work you can hear echoes of Hemphill's former musical outlet, the World Saxophone Quartet, which proved that a horn section could handle its own rhythmic workload. With seven musicians however, each doubling and some tripling, the possibilities are fuller, richer, and more varied. Ehrlich makes the final statement, playing his alto with great feeling and a palpable respect for his mentor. Tzadik and producer Ehrlich have performed a service documenting and making this music of Julius Hemphill available. All that's missing is the great man himself.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Track Listing: 1. One Atmosphere 9:01 2. Savannah Suite (Hemphill) - 8:20 3. Water Music for Woodwinds: Mr. Neptune (Hemphill) - 9:13 4. Water Music for Woodwinds: Miss Catherine (Hemphill) - 7:31 5. Water Music for Woodwinds: King's Pawn (Hemphill) - 7:40 6. Water Music for Woodwinds: Backwater (Hemphill) - 9:17
Personnel: Tim Berne - Alto and Baritone Sax; Marty Ehrlich - Flute, Alto and Soprano Sax; Julius Hemphill - Composer; Oliver Lake - Flute, Alto and Soprano Sax; J.D. Parran - Clarinet, Flute, Baritone Sax; Ursula Oppens - Piano; Pheeroan akLaff - Percussion, Drums; Robert DeBellis - Clarinet, Flute, Tenor Sax; Erik Friedlander - Cello; Sam Furnace - Flute, Alto and Soprano Sax; Aaron Stewart - Flute, Tenor Sax; Sigurbjorn Bernhardsson - Violin; Brandon Vamos - Cello; Simin Ganatra - Violin; Masumi Per Rostad - Viola; Pacifica String Quartet.