Julius Hemphill

Julius Hemphill: One Atmosphere

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Hats off to Tzadik for this long overdue album of Julius Hemphill's creative music compositions. Here are three works, ranging in date from 1976 to 1992, for three different instrumental settings. The first, "One Atmosphere," is one of his most compelling pieces, written for piano and string quartet. The Pacifica String Quartet, a group synonymous with modern music, and the legendary vanguard pianist Ursula Oppens offer the premiere of this work, a subtle, nearly pastoral range of tonal studies for groups of strings laid out along droning, shimmering ostinatos with Oppens accenting the end of each written line with a restatement of not only the original notes but their contrapuntal extensions on into the next. Near the end, the piece erupts with strings and piano elongating the original ideas, stating them in almost serial phrases. "Savannah Suite," a mid-length work for cello, flute, and percussion, concentrates on the interrelationships of the various kinds of lyric tones and rural themes that obsessed Hemphill throughout his life. Cellist Erik Friedlander, flutist Marty Ehrlich, and the great Pheeroan akLaff perform it with great economy and emotion. Here the blues are the centerpiece. The final piece here, a 33-and-a-half-minute work for seven woodwinds, receives its premiere. Played by former students like Tim Berne, collaborators such as Oliver Lake, and downtown stalwarts such as Sam Furnace, this is easily the most monumental and breathtaking piece of music Hemphill ever composed. Full of lines that seemingly begin in the ether and go nowhere, only to be retraced later on by different instruments and varying time signatures crossing numerous musical eras, this is a labyrinthine work that is the epitome of Hemphill's musicality and deep, almost reverential dedication to the wind family.

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