|In his work, and in the Sextet in particular, the African-American culture is, more than memory, sublimation. None of the rivers that make up the jazz ocean, from spirituals to gospel, blues, R&B or soul, funk, bop or free and other improvisational heritages, was foreign to him. But in his hands none ran to its estuary accepting the will of the margins or the consecration of the spring. Because the fate of men like Julius Hemphill is to work in the invention of history, to pursuit the dream of life’s metamorphosis. Identified with a new generation of musicians (with Marty Ehrlich and Tim Berne being exemplary disciples) with a tendency to integrate jazz into a multi-creational process (dance, theatre, cinema, opera, performance art), his name never reached its deserved recognition in the international concert and festival market. An outsider, he never accepted to trade on the dignity of his creativity. And for that he paid and will continue to pay a very high price. The price that exudes from the dry ink of the news bulletin that reached the news bureaus that April of 1995 – never did the life of Julius Hemphill merit half the lines that were written for his death. After all, America and the world have not changed that much: the best jazz musician is still a dead one.
It’s (also) against this destiny that Marty Ehrlich keeps the Julius Hemphill Sextet alive, this incandescent laboratory of experimental consecration to a singular music in contemporary jazz. It’s not hard to turn the listening of “Hard Blues” into a practical and theorical class on the art of jazz and Julius Hemphill, such is the multiplicity of its historical tracks. From the most profound black roots, both sacred and profane (from spirituals & gospel to blues, sometimes more in the spirit than in it’s form, and it’s honky-tonk and funk derivations) to the memories of bebop (in it’s grammar more than in it’s syntax), to the body of free (in itself contested by the orthodoxy that has taken hold of it) to new horizons in the complementary arts of writing and improvising, everything is created and recreated at the heart of the Julius Hemphill Sextet.
Refusing the formula of theme-variation-theme, Hemphill invests mobility and polyphonic diversity into the sextet’s voices, accumulating orchestral counterpoint and textural explorations, sewing collective solos with individual excursions, inventing mutable musical landscapes where linear progression and oblique rupture are coexistent. All this illuminated by the flesh of the music, a music that perspires with and like the body of its workers.
With Marty Ehrlich and friends, the heritage of Julius Hemphill (and jazz) is extracted from the confines of the museum into a brand new dimension of life.