You Cannot Be Sirius – Summer Reup 1

What's behind the mask?

Originally posted 3 August 2006

DOGON A.D.
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.

Discussion8 Comments Category Julius Hemphill

8 Responses to You Cannot Be Sirius – Summer Reup 1

  1. Funk in 11/8, no less. Such a smooth 11 that folks don’t notice it, really. I hear it in my head as 11 anyway (4-3-4)…I can’t spin it right now because the sig other is sleeping and my headphones are on the blink.

    The B Side called The Painter is super too. Wadud shines there as well. Compositionally distinct in that BAG style.

    My sister was friends with Ursula Oppens and we went out to her and Julius’ place in New Rochelle for a New Year’s Eve party sometime in the ’80s. I eventually figured out that the somewhat taciturn guy parked on the sofa watching college bowl games was Hemphill. I was initially totally thrilled to meet Oppens, one of my contemporary piano heroes at the time. Meeting Hemphill was awesome for my idolatrous 20-something self.

    Oppens’ 80-something father drove my sister and I back to Queens on the LI Expressway. It was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life.

    PB

  2. check that…Wilson starts with a strong 4-3-4, Wadud has a bit of trouble finding his feet, then it gels into 4-4-3. Whatever…it’s stunning.

    I’m also reminded of how much I appreciate the acrid sparseness of it all, especially as a setting for Hemphill’s amazing alto sound.

    PB

  3. Thanks for putting this track up again — much appreciated.

  4. The missing piece of this session is “The Hard Blues”, a twenty-minute track from the same date that was released on Hemphill’s COON BID’NESS. It makes a perfect closer when you add it to the end of DOGON A.D.

  5. Thanks for uploading this great track. I’ll definitely be getting some more of Hemphill’s music. Are there any especially good places to start?

  6. A friend of mine and I actually transcribed “Dogon A.D.” not too long ago. It fits pretty neatly into 4-4-3 for the composed material, and though Wilson stays more or less in the meter, Wadud is all over the damn place in the solos, so the top of the 11 seems to shift around a bit. I think it’s more important that the funk is implict than explicit, anyway.

  7. My tastes had been moving from early ’70s blues rock, to fusion to Pharoah Sanders when I discovered Dogon A.D. Suddenly, I found something that appealed to my gut as well as my spirts. As an album, I always like Les Stances a Sophie more, and though I love Theme de Yoyo, the Dogon A.D. title track was the best.

    Before you posted this the last time, I had found a cassette I had made of the Arista release (former college room mate, probably snagged the vinyl). I ripped it to digital, but the quality was nowhere near as good as your upload. This was around the same time that I was trying to get a decent sound out of a decrepit tape of Toudie Heath’s Kawaida. In that instance, I found a still shrink wrapped vinyl copy online.

    As far as the Hard Blues, you can pick up the Live in Lisbon album on the Chain feed label at emusic.com.

  8. Sorry, I meant the “Clean Feed” label.

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