Julius Hemphill

Chile New York: Sound Environment

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Chile New York is a sound environment for a sculpture installation first exhibited in 1980 and related to the CIA-supported coup in Chile that overthrew Allende and brought in the Pinochet era of repression and mass executions. It's music designed to be an audio backdrop, with three 20-minute pieces and four short snippets of the saxophonist closer to his bluesy mode playing off the percussion colors provided by Warren Smith. "One" starts off with sax musings and occasional flute overdubs over Smith's marimba/vibes and background sounds. It's very atmospheric but simple and engaging as the musicians react to each other, using space as another musical element. It develops organically, picking up intensity about halfway through, and "Two" essentially falls in the same vein, with Julius Hemphill playing bluesy licks while Smith's gongs shimmer and resonant kettle drum notes kind of pitch-shift in the background. Hemphill's playing may have a little harder tone and more intense flurries, but he's still dealing in fundamentals, not any complex, abstract exercises that everyday people walking through the installation couldn't grasp. Again it's about using space and silence, reducing the music to the minimal levels that serve expression with sort of solo sections for both near the end (sort of, since the concept of solos really doesn't fit this kind of playing) before inchoate human cries from Hemphill and Smith's unobtrusive thumps and rattles close it out. "Three" is more outside, with a flute overdub complementing Hemphill's darker, intenser tenor playing before he shifts to alto/tenor exchanges a third of the way in. You can read suffering, pain, and loss into the much angrier playing, with Smith understandably in more of a background role (two Julius Hemphills have to be really tough to go up against), before it tapers down to a ruminative finale. The four short pieces are almost afterthoughts: "Five" features flute fading into vocalized sound effects from Hemphill over snare drum washing, and "Six" is vaguely Asian with flute and reverberating percussion and cymbals. Chile New York always sustains interest because these two musicians are fully attuned to each other's nuances, and fans of Hemphill's solo sax excursions or duo/trio recordings will almost certainly enjoy it.

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