Julius Hemphill died in 1995 but his revolutionary approach to saxophone lives on in this all-sax sextet dedicated to his music. Hemphill is best known as co-founder in the 1970s of the World Saxophone Quartet, a group who managed the rare trick of remaining resolutely, some might say stridently, avant-garde and yet somewhat popular, by jazz standards.
Hemphill’s compositions formed a central core of the WSQ’s work, and after leaving the group, he pursued ever more creative and further-out music until his death. On “The Hard Blues, Live in Lisbon,” this sextet picks up right where he left off. Working through a full live set of 13 of Hemphill’s compositions, it is easy to hear influences from contemporary European music, with touches of blues and gospel mixing magically with obscure harmonies and quirky, pulsing rhythms.
Led by saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, the six saxes all play with a dedication to Hemphill’s legacy of experimentation. The jagged tones of the saxes may tax listeners accustomed to traditional harmonies, but their creative edginess is what makes it so special.
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