Julius Hemphill

Blue Boyé

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Recorded in 1977 in a cold basement studio in New York, the late Julius Hemphill self-released Blue Boyé on his own Mbari label. Given that there was almost no independent distribution that actually paid people in those days, Hemphill's record, a beautifully packaged double album, sank without a trace. It has reappeared thanks to Tim Berne, saxophonist, composer, bandleader, and independent label boss. All eight tracks are meditations on various formal musical structures, and, as Hemphill claims in his manifesto-like liner notes, autobiographical. There is the chamber serialism of "Countryside," an impressionistic, textured travel through the inner workings of the flute and soprano saxophone, as well as a gorgeous multi-tracked alto in the lower register. On "Hotend," Hemphill's multi-tracked saxophones are more expressionistic, using one part of the blues, one part personal experience, and one part the musical instinct of being a great balladeer. On disc two, "Kansas City Line" is the most purely Hemphill piece in his entire oeuvre. On this piece, the solo alto -- playing itself through the blues and ancient swing lines -- reveals the true guiding light behind the World Saxophone Quartet. In "C.M.E.," Hemphill reveals the fine twining of soul, blues, and gospel and floats them along a time line from the end of the 19th to the end of the 20th century. Blue Boyé is a singular album, born of equal parts inspiration, determination, and artistry. It should be heard by virtually everyone interested in Hemphill to be sure, but not exclusively. Blue Boyé is an album that reveals as much about the history of American black music as Sly & the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On, Anthony Braxton's For Alto, or Duke Ellington's Drum Is a Woman.

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