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Julius Hemphill and Sextet: At Dr. King’s Table

Of all the legions of jazz artists to emerge from the ’70s loft scene, very few had the compositional proficiency of the late saxophonist Julius Hemphill. Harmonically advanced, rhythmically challenging, and melodically alluring, Hemphill’s varied body of work embraced the earthiness associated with the gospel, blues and R&B, while also utilizing the structural wit and gutsy improvisations associated with free jazz and European classical musics. When it comes to making chamber music wail with the emotional intensity of gutbucket blues or making free jazz strut with the thrustfulness of street funk, Hemphill was peerless in his generation.

The haunting spirituality and intellectual sophistication of Hemphill’s compositions are radiantly realized throughout At Dr. King’s Table. Directed by Marty Ehrlich, the sextet evokes the spirit of Hemphill with sparkling verve and charming reverie as they explore 16 previously unrecorded compositions. The stark splendor of “What I Know Now” and “A Bitter Glory” are tear-jerking listening experiences. The biting lyricism of “What I Know Now” is gorgeously unravelled by Marty Ehrlich as the whispering voicings of the sextet paint a pastel colored backdrop. Moodier and more somber, “A Bitter Glory” features altoist Andy Laster gently caressing the melody with loving tenderness and swooning romanticism. “Void” highlights Hemphill’s flair for collective improvisation as the swirling descending melody coils into a thick rope of overlapping syncopated riffs and heady improvisation. The struttering “Sojourner’s Blues: Ain’t I A Woman?” and the exhilarating “Holy Rockers” illustrate Hemphill’s ingenuity at conjuring up Saturday night blues romps and Sunday morning church services. Magnificent in execution, dynamic in scope, At Dr. King’s Table is a documentation of Hemphill’s greatness as a composer.

Originally Published