A one-of-a-kind sound. Supposedly Hemphill’s own Blue Boyé is similar, but I haven’t heard that to compare. The closest music to this I can think of is that of Anthony Braxton, but this is less cerebral and more down-to-Earth. Roi Boyé & the Gotham Minstrels is billed as an “audiodrama”. That’s a good term for it. The music melds a flamboyant dramatic sense from musical theater and vaudeville with the techniques and improvisational choices of free jazz, tinged just slightly with blues and R&B influences. The only performer is Julius Hemphill himself, overdubbed, on saxophone and flute, with some occasional spoken word vocals. The theatrical aspects of this help hold it together, despite a few moments perhaps where meandering “double album syndrome” threatens.
Although lots of narratives about jazz history ignore the Midwestern United States, Julius Hemphill and crew came along in the early 1970s in St. Louis, along with the AACM organization in Chicago, and made a case for the region’s relevance and importance. This is an amazing debut, released on Hemphill’s own M-Bari record label. The most distinctive feature is Abdul Wadud bowing and strumming his cello to a regular beat, which is matched against R&B tinged avant garde jazz soloing from the wind players. This music comes from a very different place than a lot of other jazz of the era, because it doesn’t seem to take the same sources of inspiration as artists operating on either coast. In forty years this hasn’t aged a day.