Julius Hemphill and Peter Kowald | Live at Kassiopeia | No Business Records

Julius Hemphill – soprano and alto saxophones | Peter Kowald – bass

Recorded 8th January, 1987 at Kassiopeia, Wuppertal. Mastered by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Photos by Gérard Rouy. Design by Oskaras Anosovas. Producer:  Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer: Valerij Anosov

Tracklist LP Side A:  Solo I (Julius Hemphill) Solo II (Julius Hemphill) Solo (Peter Kowald) Side B | Solo (Peter Kowald) (continues) Side C | Duo I (Julius Hemphill / Peter Kowald)  Duo II (Julius Hemphill / Peter Kowald) Side D | Duo II (Julius Hemphill / Peter Kowald) (continues) Duo III (Julius Hemphill / Peter Kowald)

Tracklist CD 1: 1. Solo I (Julius Hemphill) 6’58” 2. Solo II (Julius Hemphill) 7’23” 3. Solo III (Julius Hemphill) 7’40” 4. Solo (Peter Kowald) 32’20” Tracklist CD 2: 1. Duo I (Julius Hemphill / Peter Kowald) 7’27” ) 2. Duo II (Julius Hemphill / Peter Kowald) 36’31” 3. Duo III (Julius Hemphill / Peter Kowald) 2’49”

A never earlier released duo recording that was played back in 1987 at Kassiopeia, Wuppertal brings these two great musicians and composers together for this unique and unforgettable session.

Peter Kowald | Antwerpen 1988 | Photo by Gérard Rouy
Peter Kowald | Antwerpen 1988 | Photo by Gérard Rouy

Peter Kowald

(April 21, 1944 – September 21, 2002) was a German free jazz musician. A member of the Globe Unity Orchestra, and a touring double-bass player, Kowald collaborated with a large number of European free jazz and American free-jazz players during his career, including Peter Brötzmann, Irène Schweizer, Karl Berger, Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, Karl E. H. Seigfried, Conny Bauer, Jeffrey Morgan, Wadada Leo Smith, Günter Sommer, William Parker, Barre Phillips, Joëlle Léandre, Lauren Newton and Evan Parker. He also recorded a number of solo double-bass albums, and was a member of the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra until 1985. He also recorded a number of pioneering double bass duets with Maarten Altena, Barry Guy, Joëlle Léandre, Barre Phillips, William Parker, Damon Smith and Peter Jacquemyn. In addition, Kowald collaborated extensively with poets and artists and with the dancers Gerlinde Lambeck, Anne Martin (formerly of Pina Bausch Ensemble), Tadashi Endo, Patricia Parker (founder of the Vision Festival), Maria Mitchell, Sally Silvers, Cheryl Banks (formerly of Sun Ra’s Arkestra), Arnette de Mille, Sayonara Pereira, and Kazuo Ohno. Specific works included Die Klage der Kaiserin (1989) with Pina Bausch, short pieces (since 1989) with Jean Sasportes, The spirit of adventure (1990) with Anastasia Lyra, Wasser in der Hand (1990/91) with Christine Brunel, and Futan no sentaku/The burden of choice (1990/91) with Min Tanaka and Butch Morris. Besides his duo work with singers such as Jeanne Lee, Diamanda Galás or Sainkho Namtchylak, Peter was especially interested in his international improvising ensemble Global Village with musicians from different cultural regions of the world: China, Japan, Near East, South Europe, North and South America. He died of a heart attack in New York City in 2002. (source)

Julius Hemphill | Moers 1977 | Photo by Gérard Rouy
Julius Hemphill | Moers 1977 | Photo by Gérard Rouy

Julius Arthur Hemphill

(January 24, 1938, Fort Worth, Texas – April 2, 1995, New York City) was a jazz composer and saxophone player. He performed mainly on alto saxophone; less often soprano and tenor saxophones and flute. Hemphill was born in Fort Worth, Texas (also, incidentally, the hometown of Ornette Coleman), and studied the clarinet before learning saxophone. Gerry Mulligan was an early influence. Hemphill joined the United States Army in 1964, and served for several years, and later performed with Ike Turner for a brief period. In 1968, Hemphill moved to St. Louis, Missouri and co-founded the Black Artists’ Group (BAG), a multidisciplinary arts collective that brought him into contact with artists such as saxophonists Oliver Lake and Hamiet Bluiett, trumpeters Baikida Carroll and Floyd LeFlore, and writer/director Malinke Robert Elliott. Hemphill moved to New York City in the mid-1970s, and was active in the then-thriving free jazz community. He taught saxophone lessons to a number of notable musicians, including David Sanborn and Tim Berne. Hemphill was probably best known as the founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, a group he formed in 1976, after collaborating with Anthony Braxton in several saxophone-only ensembles. Hemphill left the World Saxophone Quartet in the early 1990s, and formed a saxophone quintet. Hemphill recorded over twenty albums as a leader, about ten records with the World Saxophone Quartet and also recorded or performed with Björk, Bill Frisell, Anthony Braxton and others. Late in his life, ill-health (including diabetes and heart surgery) forced Hemphill to stop playing saxophone, but he continued writing music until his death. His saxophone sextet, led by Marty Ehrlich, also released several albums of Hemphill’s music, but without Hemphill playing. The most recent is titled The Hard Blues, recorded live in Lisbon after Hemphill’s death. The best source on Hemphill’s life and music is a multi-hour oral history interview that he conducted for the Smithsonian Institution in March and April 1994, and which is held at the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. (source)

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4 thoughts on “Julius Hemphill and Peter Kowald | Live at Kassiopeia | No Business Records

  1. When two artists the caliber of Julius Hemphill and Peter Kowald left this world, they left a creative vacuum in their wake. Certainly there were and are others carrying the torch for the new improvisational music, but the singular musical personalities of these two artists were not and cannot be replaced. So when new and vital performance recordings emerge of either these days, it is an occasion. And when they are playing together as a duet, even more so.

    Such is the case with the new issue Live in Kassiopeia (No Business 2-CD NBCD 35-36), captured live in January 1987. The first disk features long solo improvisations by both artists individually; the second brings them together in duet.

    The two are in great form. They generate the kind of results together that can only come about when the chemistry is right. It most certainly was. Hemphill is in extraordinary voice, his dry and whirlwind way around both soprano and alto is impeded by no obstacles and Kowald responds in kind with a barrage of notes and textures that complement what Mr. Hemphill is doing with all the melodic-vertical and double-stop brilliance he can conjure.

    It IS a night of brilliance. The root-scaffolding of the music is left visible at times, like in the boppish solo improv Hemphill inaugurates the set with. But the going beyond puts us all in a place that one can only contemplate with a certain awe.

    These were two masters, frozen in time now, 1987, but living and breathing through this recording as the titans they were, and are.

    I’ll say no more. Highly recommended.

  2. Out of the blue comes this double disc set featuring two distinguished alumni, both sadly now departed, of two parallel streams of musical pioneering. German bassist Peter Kowald was one of the authors of European free improvisation. Though initially in the shadows of his more assertive compatriots, saxophonist Peter Brotzmann and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, he came into his own through giving full rein to his open spirit and almost obsessive desire to communicate, culminating in his Global Village concept and appearances with virtually every free jazz luminary.

    American saxophonist Julius Hemphill was one architect of the groundbreaking St Louis Black Artists Group, evincing a particular talent for fresh composition, a point pressed home by his justly lauded early masterpiece Dogon A.D. (reissued by International Phonograph in 2011), reissued on CD. However, he remains best known as a founder and prime composer for the World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ), instrumental in forging their distinctive style.

    Captured in a club (still extant) in Kowald’s home town of Wuppertal in 1987, this live recording presents each man in an unaccompanied showcase on the first CD, before uniting them for three cuts on the second. Issued now for the first time, with no liners setting out background to the date, some context is needed. By 1987, Kowald had elevated his duet work to the highest level, roaming the world, seeking out unlikely collaborators in unfettered expression. Hemphill was without a longstanding outlet for his craft, having left the WSQ but yet to initiate his saxophone sextet. It is easy to imagine an impromptu duo date being engineered when the American was passing through the German lowlands.

    While Hemphill’s three solo performances—each in the 6-7 minute range—are not blues-based they are definitely blues-tinged. He gives flowing interpretations of what are presumably his own works (all simply titled “Solo” on the sleeve), which bear his trademark of languid melodies which flirt with dissonance. He maintains focus through each; tuneful and swinging in tempo, at times recalling Ornette Coleman, just occasionally eliding into the falsetto register. Only one furious double time passage in “Solo I” and some coruscating runs in “Solo II” demonstrate his chops. There’s a slightly grainy nasal quality to his tone as well as a slight pre-echo, probably an artefact stemming from the age of the tapes.

    Kowald pushes the possibilities inherent in his axe much more energetically towards the extremes in his 32 minute feature. Starting with a rippling muscular pizzicato, he contrasts deep darkly resonance with volatile bowing. At times he exploits the harmonics where his splintered vocalized inflections create the illusion of multiple voices. In addition he does actually make use of his voice, subtly blending the throat singing he had learned from Siberian collaborations with his arco technique, adding a fetching human vulnerability.

    Paired, it is intriguing to hear how they switch between the two home territories. As an improvised duet, they are much more on the bassist’s turf, each reacting to the other in the moment, but they do also touch on jazz narratives, with Kowald walking his bass in tandem with Hemphill’s soulful alto. Even here the German brings a new dimension with his unexpected twists and turns from outside the tradition. “Duo II” is the longest piece at 36 minutes, alternating between the two modes in unforced evolution. Thus a sequence of whistles and wavering saxophone squeals accompanies bowed overtones in an affecting melange, before giving way to an earthy cry with a slow, jazzy counterpoint. Hemphill even throws in a bebop quote towards the end.

    Overall the most worthwhile cut remains Kowald’s solo, though even that struggles to sustain interest over the whole course. While the release doesn’t illuminate either man’s career, both clearly saw merit in the meeting: they reprised the arrangement three years later in Berlin, as evidenced by a track on Kowald’s Duos America (FMP, 1990). Ultimately, this release provides a fascinating chronicle which surprises by its mere existence after all these years.

  3. Julius Hemphill fans have a lot to celebrate these days with the reissue of Dogon A.D. and the inclusion of a session with Hemphill on the Aboriginal Music Society boxed set on Eremite (see above for details of both). But a real find is this previously unissued live duo concert featuring Hemphill and bassist Peter Kowald from 1987. One duo improvisation was included on Kowald’s LP Duos America but this concert recording remained hidden away until now. Getting a chance to hear the two play together is significant enough, but equally notable is the inclusion of a full disc of solos.

    Things kick off with three solos by Hemphill. The reed player’s previous solo releases Blue Boye and Roi Boye and the Gotham Minstrels are conceptual tour de force documents, capturing his singular approach to voicing multiple reed parts via multi-tracking and performing live over tapes. But on these three pieces, he sticks to unaccompanied alto, spinning out compact, relaxed statements that weave together blues, bop, and R&B, colored with edgier freedoms. His tone is biting, his phrasing unrushed and vocalized, and he twists and turns the loose, lyrical themes with masterful ease. Kowald’s single 32-minute solo starts with a plucked, resonant theme, slowly building density with layers of arco full of rich harmonics, groaning overtones, and vocalized colorations, before reaching a quietly skittering finish.

    Listening to the two sets of solos back-to-back, it is difficult to imagine where the two will find common ground, and things get off to a bit of a shaky start on the initial seven-and-a-half-minute improvisation. Hemphill’s reed smears and Kowald’s arco oscillations circle around each other as the two struggle to find a connection, but halfway through things start to click as Hemphill’s mounting lines carom across the bassist’s surging momentum and settle into a slow, free-blues simmer. By the time they start the second, 36-minute improvisation, both men are firing on all cylinders: there’s constant give and take as Hemphill’s lithe melodicism, full of leaping intervals and circuitous lines, plays off Kowald’s rumbling pizzicato, crying bent notes, and dark sliding tonalities. The recording quality is a bit rough at times, but the stellar music more than makes up for it.

  4. The impressive Lithuanian label No Business also shared some terrific Hemphill music last year, releasing a double CD called Live at Kassiopeia that features solos and duets by Hemphill and great German bassist Peter Kowald. It was recorded live in 1987 in Wuppertal, Germany (the bassist’s hometown), and it’s all totally improvised. The two players interact with an easy rapport—few European free-jazz musicians worked more extensively and naturally with their American counterparts than Kowald, and Hemphill was among the most open-minded figures to emerge from the 70s jazz scene—even as their slightly different approaches create a nice tension. Kowald doesn’t use repetition like Wadud does, preferring a more muscular and propulsive style a la William Parker, and Hemphill adapts with a rangier kind of playing. Live at Kassiopeia captures a side of Hemphill that his studio work rarely explored at such length—the centerpiece of disc two is a single cut that runs more than 36 minutes.

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