Julius Hemphill: Dogon A.D.

Mike Shanley reviews the reissue of Julius Hemphill's 'Dogon A.D.'

International Phonograph may eventually rival Mosaic if it continues with its beautiful reissue packages. Like its recent reissue of Bill Dixon’s Intents and Purposes, Julius Hemphill’s Dogon A.D. is packed in a durable mini-album sleeve that reproduces the artwork of its vinyl predecessor, complete with gatefold, a fold-out large reprint of the liner notes (in case the sleeve notes are too small) and comments on the reissue itself. If that weren’t enough, it reunites the original tracks with a seminal piece from that session that couldn’t fit on the vinyl.

Although Arista/Freedom released Dogon A.D. in 1977, Hemphill initially pressed 500 copies on his own Mrabi label in 1972. (An additional insert features that edition’s minimal cover art.) It became a highly coveted release for good reason: Hemphill’s raw alto and flute are joined by Baikida Carroll (trumpet), Abdul Wadud (cello) and Philip Wilson (drums) for a session based in heavy grooves despite the somewhat spare instrumentation. Added to that context, they solo in a manner that incorporates free thinking and aggressive delivery. The title track features an odd-meter vamp held down by Wilson and Wadud, the latter alternately bowing passionate harmony and creating the sound of guitar chords.

The bonus here is the inclusion of “Hard Blues,” an intense 20-minute track that appeared on the Arista/Freedom album Coon Bid’ness. With Hamiet Bluiett onboard, they create a slow, churning launch pad for Hemphill’s blistering vocabulary and Carroll’s equally pointed commentary. More a droning vamp than a traditional blues, the piece is equally brutal and satisfying.

Dogon A.D. suffers from sonic shortcomings inherent in the original tapes, with distortion and static popping up in a few places. Grin and bear it though, because this music is worth it.