Here’s a remarkable deeply original LP from Julius Hemphill. It was initially released & recorded in 1972 on Hemphill’s own label “Mbari” to much acclaim & was later reissued with enhanced distribution capacity by Arista/Freedom in 1977. Hemphill composes the albums triune of tracks & has summoned the intriguing expertise of Abdul Wadud on cello, Philip Wilson on drums & Bakidida Carroll on trumpet. Let’s kick off with the real clincher, the title track Dogon A.D. , a 14.30 minute masterpiece of lackadaisical desert maundering. the Founding formation is Wilson’s wonderfully disjointed drum-loop/beat that’s composed in a fast eleven (contrary to which the beat is actually very slow & loping) that trudges through the dunes stoically throughout with very little improvisation. It’s hypnotic, dope & has a quiet complexity despite it’s repetition & dogged preservation. Wadud wades in quickly & compliments with excellent groaning low-end bowing that interlocks with the groove, quickly followed by the horns. An excellent scripted interaction ensues, really gathering atmosphere before Wadud transmutes his cello pattern for an alternative arrangement & Hemphill starts his extensive soloing & improvisation that stretches out over the track in a passionate periphrasis, not completely going off the rails but pushing considerably over the boundaries of sonorous decorum & lucidity. He has a great style of playing, often quite piquant in pitch & clearly quite grounded in traditional formulas yet blatantly wilderness-savvy & hysteria prone. Baikida is the next up to proclaim his improvisational tensity with first class trumpet flamboyance.
Last on Side A is “Rites”, a hasty & disorderly ravel of raucous squabbling instruments & intensity over fast Swing pushing Tumble-Weed. It’s pretty manic, missing the out-of-hand urgency of many other records at the time but conjuring other novelties & by no accounts at all coming up short on the wild corybantic rashness of the medium. Good stuff!
Finally we arrive at The Painter, a fifteen minute tune taking up the full B side. Hemphill seems to have opted for a full versatility stratagem as this final track yet again completely polarises itself against the previous disparate duo. This is a sparser & far more abstract affair with Hemphill on flute & Wilson using whiskers. Spacious & heavy on experimenting & uber-Avant verve the song claws it’s way through an exotic environment of sound & shapes seemingly without full clarity or destination. Wadud seems to play his bass/cello like a guitar on this number. I am not so sure about the technique but this is certainly a very interesting advent with Hemphill playing very well & Wilson also generating some pleasing tight flurries amongst the uncertain sprawl.
Overall, this is a spectacular & idiosyncratic record with a great variety of conditions, themes & styles. Luckily, it’s still in print as a deluxe digi-pack (& rightfully so) & should be easily attainable.