Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Neil Welch - July 14, 2013


Music inspired by the saxophonist Julius Hemphill.  

A year ago our good comrade Luke Bergman put the album ’Coon Bid'ness in my hands.  The album immediately resonated with me.  In this music there is a brazen use of loose, bluesy inflection, but with a crystalized and truly intellectual approach to composition.  In my Racer Session this week, I’ve composed a new piece inspired specifically by this album.  Joining me will be Kristian Garrard-drums, Bill Kautz-Euphonium, Luke Bergman-Bass, Simon Henneman-Guitar, Jacob Zimmerman-alto and Christian Pincock-trombone.  

With seven members in total, for me this is a large ensemble composition and I wanted to explore the possibilities inherent in that.  I began by composing an avant blues melody that became the main theme of the composition.  These bluesy themes are often buried inside denser horn writing, but are also occasionally played by a single instrument on top of the rhythm section, or played fully solo.  In Hemphill’s music I’m amazed by his combinations of rhythm and the tight/loose feel in the band.  The group improvisation work is simply amazing. Their playing feels very unified but with distinct personal voices at all times.  It seems every member of the ensemble feels fully confident in the statements coming out of their instruments. I wanted to use these devises in my composition and our group improvisations too. The composed material is a balancing act of virtuosic melodies, atonal chordal movement and deep overtones of the blues at all times.  In our solo work I hope we can achieve this same spirit of group exploration within individual voices.  

There is no specific mention in the album itself as to a racial-political message with the title ‘Coon Bid'ness, but I believe with it’s 1975 release date and strong references to 60’s avant jazz and blues, it’s very safe to say the title was intended to be evocative.  My inspiration for my own composition this week does not intentionally carry a racial-political message with it, but as it was inspired specifically by this album, there must be a strain of it in mine as well.

For the jam to follow, I’d like folks to combine two or more diverse compositional elements together.  For example, Hemphill uses a loose, bluesy feel over the top of dense harmony.  I’m specifically avoiding the phrase “opposing compositional elements” because I’m interested to hear a unification of two or more concepts versus ideas that bear no relationship to one another.

My thanks again to Kristian, Bill, Luke, Simon, Jacob and Christian!

-Neil Welch

The musical examples below are from the album ’Coon Bid'ness by Julius Hemphill

Julius Hemphill - The Hard Blues (full version)

Julius Hemphill “Lyric”

Julius Hemphill - Skin 1 / Skin 2 (1975)