Hoodoo Blues & Roots Magic
Clean Feed CF 337 CD

Do Tell

Plays the Music of Julius Hemphill

Amirani Records AMRN 043

Celebrating musical heroes of an early generation has been a staple of Jazz repertoire since before Jelly Roll Morton recorded “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say”. It has almost become an industry in the 21st Century. Luckily the Americans who make up the Do Tell trio and the six Italians who recorded Roots Magic Hoodoo Blues stay away from the usual suspects celebrated on these compelling sessions. Do Tell, consisting of Los Angeles-based cornetist Dan Clucas and two New Mexico-residents, drummer Dave Wayne and tubaist Mark Weaver, recreates six major compositions by alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill (1938- 1995), with no reeds in sight. Living up to their sub title the other quintet consisting of reedists Alberto Popollan and Errico Defabritiis, bassist Gianfranco Tedeschi and drummer Fabrizio Spera plus Luca Venitucci who shifts among organ, melodica and amplified zither, present a 10 track program heavy on the moist rhythmically bluesy lines of Phil Cochran, John Carter, Sun Ra, Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson Olu Ddara and Hermphill plus a couple of originals.

Like a dress rehearsal of a play which must replicate the performance without costume or scenery, the American trio has given itself the more difficult task. Except for “Hotend” created for overdubbed saxophone by Hemphill himself, all the tunes were played by saxophone-heavy units of various sizes. However Wayne’s brawny back beat plus electronic extensions as well as Weaver’s close-grained brass bulges provide the sounds with appropriate continuum. That leaves Clucas, like a superhero singlehandedly facing a clutch of villains, the task of communicating Hemphill’s sometime irregular themes. “Floppy” is notable for how he works a King Oliver-like clean note extension over tuba farts; while “Hotend” become a slow-moving atonal ballad whose emotional despondency gradually overtakes the performance via stable brass belting, lip burbles and stentorian rumbles.

Distinctively as Wayne’s percussion and processes reference textures that could be traced to maracas, cowbell, steel drum, glockenspiel and clap cymbals on “G Song”, Clucas’ whistles and emotional folksiness move the tune from ballroom formalism to backwoods Blues to Second Line excitement.”Body” is a burnished tripartite showcase, where the mid-range tones intersect as cleanly as geometric lines.

Despite its stripped-down form as well, Do Tell makes “The Hard Blues” even harder. Colorful plunger work from the cornetist propels the theme, which takes on pre-Jazz echoes as it unrolls. With Weaver holding onto the bottom like a bronco buster at a rodeo and Wayne’s press rolls proving the clip-clop rhythm, the narrative echoes Jungle Music plus modern theme-and-variations.

Beginning its CD with a version of “The Hard Blues”, the Italian quintet makes its statement in a novel fashion. Although slurs from Popollan’s clarinet and yelps from Defabritiis alto saxophone are in use, this variant is stop-time and sunny, somehow making the tune into more of country blues than Hemphill’s R&B-oriented original. From that point on parameters are established. It’s important to remember that this is Italian Hoodoo Blues & Roots Magic. Like a Milanese take on traditional American fashion, the five append an Italian sensibility to the themes. On Phil Cohran’s “Unity”, for instance, Venitucci’s organ spurts and Defabritiis’ road-house are more part of a tarantella than the soul twist. This distance is especially apparent –and needed – on Sun Ra’s “Call for all Demons”. High energy and theatrical, the band intuitively grasps the mixture of seriousness and satire that characterize4 the Ra oeuvre. The horn players’ musical sophistication is such that either can provide a tune with Benny Goodman-like schooled glissandi or Jackie McLean-like serrated vibrations. Bassist Tedeschi demonstrates his spiky bottle-neck-like command despite having only four strings rather than a guitar’s six, when he takes the lead on Johnson's “Dark was the Night” and Patton’s “Poor Me.” Spera maintains the rhythmic flow, while on the former the reeds buzz as if they were country harmonicas, and on the latter Defabritiis’ extended technique and wide octave leaps provides a 21st century instrumental variant on the Delta Blues singer’s melisma.

With its heavy bass line and tremolo organ riffs Dara’s gospelish “I Can't Wait Till I Get Home” is the perfect ending with stunning counterpoint between the keys and horns and the bassist again holding fast both to the theme and the Blues-Jazz tradition. Unfortunately an alternative take of Carter’s “The Sunday Afternoon Jazz and Blues Society” comes across more like an artificial addendum than a conclusive coda. Popollan’s double-tonguing may be screamingly exciting, but adding the track is like adding a flowing cape to a perfectly designed Italian bespoke suit.

Despite that drawback each CD can be enjoyed for what it is. And both confirm the continued vitality of rooted yet modern American Jazz and Blues themes.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Plays: 1. Floppy 2. Dogon A.D. 3. Body 4. Hotend 5. The Hard Blues. 6. G Song

Personnel: Plays: Dan Clucas (cornet); Mark Weaver (tuba) and Dave Wayne (drums and electronics)

Track Listing: Hoodoo: 1. The Hard Blues 2. Unity 3. The Sunday Afternoon Jazz and Blues Society 4. Blues for Amiri B. 5. Dark Was the Night; 6. A Call for All Demons 7. Poor Me 8. The Joint Is Jumping 9. I Can't Wait Till I Get Home 10. The Sunday Afternoon Jazz and Blues Society #2

Personnel: Hoodoo: Alberto Popollan (clarinets); Errico Defabritiis (alto saxophone); Luca Venitucci (organ, melodic and amplified zither); Gianfranco Tedeschi (bass) and Fabrizio Spera (drums)