You cannot be Sirius

What's behind the mask?

Originally posted 3 August 2006

Julius Hemphill
Dogon A.D.
Mbari : 1972

Julius Hemphill, alto sax, flute; Baikida E.J. Carroll, trumpet; Abdul Wadud, cello; Philip Wilson, drums.

Who’s afraid of a little funk? Or a little skronk? The late Julius Hemphill wasn’t the first one to come up with the idea of fusing Free Jazz with Rhythm & Blues — see also: Joe McPhee circa Nation Time, Luther Thomas circa Funky Donkey, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago circa Les Stances a Sophie. But Dogon A.D. was and remains the most far-reaching and organic synthesis of those seemingly far-flung styles. Free funk, y’all.

The title track of Dogon A.D. is long, but every second of its 14 minutes is essential. The track starts at a slow slimmer and steadily builds until you’re completely enveloped. The key here is Hemphill’s matter-of-fact meshing of a steady funk beat and acoustic instruments. He doesn’t play up the novelty of his approach and doesn’t hold back on some serious sax pyrotechnics. The key here is Abdul Wadud’s cello. The unusual texture he adds to the tune keeps it from becoming overly familiar, foregrounding Hemphill’s compositional finesse. The key here is Hemphill’s sense of play and his ability to evoke R&B without falling into cliches. It’s no mean feat to get so funky without ever using a bass!

Dogon A.D. was self-produced and self-released by Hemphill. At the time, he was a leader of the Black Artists’ Group (BAG) in St. Louis. It served as another reminder that great music could — and did — come from anywhere and wasn’t just a product of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Although the album was reissued on Arista/Freedom in 1977, it never generated the sort of seismic impact it deserved. Instead, Dogon A.D. created its groundswell one fan at a time. Most famously, it completely transformed and inspired saxophonist Tim Berne. He immediately sought out Hemphill and studied with him for years. Two quick testimonials from Berne:

“I hadn’t listened to much jazz, but then I heard Julius Hemphill’s album Dogon A.D., and that completely turned me around. It captured everything I liked in music. It had this Stax/R&B sensibility and it had this other wildness. It was incredible. That’s when I started playing.”

“His album Dogon A.D. bridged all these things I’d been listening to. I was able to reconcile the R&B side of me with the side that listened to Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. Somehow he managed to do everything in the same package without anything being idiomatic. And he had a really soulful sound that I could relate to from listening to guys like King Curtis and Junior Walker.”

Berne has talked extensively about Hemphill and knows his work far better than us. So check out this interview for more details, and check out the rest of his Screwgun site while you’re there. Berne’s exceptional music is just one way that Hemphill’s work — and Dogon A.D. in particular — continues to exert a soulful and profound influence over jazz.

Category Julius Hemphill

12 Responses to You cannot be Sirius

  1. Thanks so much for posting this (and everything!!!) The other long-ish cut from this session (released separately), “The Hard Blues,” is worth a listen, too. Phillip Wilson shows his deep blues roots in a slow shuffle-march that rattles yer bones.

  2. It’s such a pleasure to see and hear a Julius Hemphill track on this site. One never hears any Hemphill on the radio (too thorny, I suppose) and few musicians (that I know of) cover his material. Great music that sounds “of a time” and “out of time” (I trust that’s possible), creative, funky, confrontational but not excessive. Thanks for the taste!

  3. I got this when Screwgun put it as a free download on its site. It’s great! Are you sure of the free-funk lineage? I’ve heard “Nation Time” and “Les Stances A Sophie” and always wondered who had that idea “first.”

  4. Thanks to all for the comments. Glad to see you here.

    djll: I freakin’ LOVE “The Hard Blues,” and we discussed posting it, but decided to put it off for now, citing its length and presumed better availability (on Coon Bid’ness, aka Reflections). Something about the overall sound, somewhat raw, “under-produced,” really gets me.

    mwanji: Lineage an open question, as always, I suppose. Someone is always able to find an earlier precedent (like, free jazz began with “West End Blues” or some such).

  5. I don’t have this but I listened to a copy many years ago, I think. Doesn’t Arthur Blythe play on some of it?

  6. Incidentally, many years ago I went to a workshop with Hempill and Henry Threadgill at John Carter’s Wind College, followed by a concert in the evening. Threadgill really had the main part of the workshop, as I recall, though – to be honest, all I remember about Hemphill was that he was real tall and wore an earring. Played a ton of alto at the concert, though.

  7. Phillip Wilson blew my mind the first time I heard this: first a tattoo, then the deep beat. He’s an important link.

    Hemphill will have his day yet.

  8. This turns up in another version (DOGON II) on JAHs Georgia Blues album which features the Cline brothers….live cuts from Willisau….worth comparing the two to see how JAH was moving the music along

  9. Ahhhhhh! Yes…thanks so much for putting this up. I was just lamenting that my Arista vinyl of this piece is completely fucked. This one time, at band camp…my sister took me to a New Year’s Eve party in New Rochelle NY at her “piano player friend’s house.” Ursula Oppens, with Mr. Hemphill camped in front of the TV watching football. We had a great conversation about a lot of stuff, but what I remember most was losing 10 bucks to him on the Auburn game.

  10. heeey i see iam to late for one of my all time favourite albums.
    is there any chance you upload this again?
    thanks in forward!!!

  11. wow , i recently picked up an original mbari lp of dogon a.d. at a local flea market , price was $ 1.00 . best dollar i ever spent ! , first track is killer , second wild , third mellow and very interesting , wicked stuff , definately a keeper .

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