The great altoist and composer Julius Hemphill had a heart condition that cut short his life at 57 and he was unable to play on this fantastic Black Saint recording from November 1993, though he composed and conducted all the pieces by a sextet composed entirely of horns.
The overall sound is reminiscent of the amazing World Saxophone Quartet, of which Hemphill was a key composer and performer until his health worsened. The amazing altoist Tim Berne, a Hemphill acolyte; baritone sax player Fred Ho; tenors James Carter and Andrew White; and altoists and soprano sax performers Marty Ehrlich (a longtime Hemphill associate) and Sam Furnace play together beautifully and are fully in tune with Hemphill's pieces, which he conducted.
The interplay is something and Hemphill's ability to work in his composing to blend and contrast the tonal range of the various saxes is something to behold. Some pieces are bluesy, others more abstract, but the writing is sure and steady and the performances highly sympathetic to Hemphill's compositional characteristics. Soul, blues, free jazz and other elements abound with a couple of the pieces being really "out," while others having a welcoming accessibility even without traditional rhythmic accompaniment from a bass, drums, piano and the like.
Two pieces were listed as collective improvisations with no individual soloing, while a third had a trio improvisation by Ehrlich, Furnace and Carter and then a group improvisation. The other six tracks featured at least one soloist and up to five, as in the title track.
Five-Chord Stud was also one of five Hemphill albums rereleased as part of a Black Saint box set repackaging and it is a highlight of the set and his career generally. Even if too ill to play, his distinctive writing and arranging is keenly heard throughout and Berne, Ehrlich, Carter and White in particular are exceptional.