Julius Hemphill / Abdul Wadud

Oakloand Duets

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This live set taken from two concerts in 1992, shortly before saxophonist Julius Hemphill's death due to complications from diabetes, is the absolute statement from these two artists who played literally hundreds of gigs but recorded together only six times. These duets showcase Hemphill's funky 'n' out side, firmly rooted in both the blues and Stax/Volt as well as in John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. The set starts off blue and gets blacker. "Me & Wadud, Part I" is classic Hemphill, long strolls in the middle register, hitting the angles on the eight or the 11, touching on tunes ranging from "Moonlight in Vermont" to Count Basie's "One O' Clock Jump" before swinging wide enough to look for microtones to bend and warp. Abdul Wadud, whether bowing, playing pizzicato, or erecting monstrously huge chords are the texture to Hemphill's color. The instrument in his hands is exactly itself without regard for tradition. He makes Ernst Reijseger sound like a formalist. Hemphill and Wadud are an easy match because both of them are rooted firmly in rhythm -- the proof is that neither of them played with drummers much. When Hemphill goes for the wide-angle funk, Wadud counters in blues. When Hemphill is reaching for the outer edges of tonal boundaries, Wadud erects a solid backdrop of counterpoint to extend the ledge a bit further. And while Hemphill composed all but one selection here, it is on Wadud's "Sigure," the longest piece on the disc, that Wadud uses wide bowing techniques and amplification to create an enormous microtonal expanse for Hemphill to respond, to which he eventually does with grace and a brazen segue of arpeggio studies that reflect root tones -- quarter and half -- in the exercise. It's a breathtaking exchange that takes one aback before moving through the rest of the disc, which is a stomp of one color and style after another, painting a dizzying yet soulful tapestry of musical prowess and emotional honesty lacquered generously with the blackest of blues and the greasiest funky soul you've ever heard in an improv setting.

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