Something Different: Henry Threadgill’s Zooid – “Tomorrow Sunny / The Revelry, Spp”


Henry Threadgill - "Tomorrow Sunny"I marvel at how Henry Threadgill Zooid never seem to fall apart and scatter about everywhere.  They sound as if assemblages hastily constructed without the use of bonding agents and only the barest attention paid to the tightness of the weave.  I imagine each song as a rough-hewn ball of notes somersaulting across the room, notes flying off its surface, strands of chordal progressions flailing wildly in the air, as it approaches an unavoidable conclusion of discorporation.

These songs are too dense to be ghosts, but they float with an unsteady freedom to be considered wholly of the temporal plane of existence.

Perhaps it’s best to simply think of this music as a force of will.  It’s not so much that Threadgill composed or performed this music as believe it into existence.

Your album personnel:  Henry Threadgill (flute, bass flute; alto saxophone), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Christopher Hoffman (cello), Jose Davila (trombone, tuba), Stomu Takeishi (bass guitar), and Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums).

Threadgill, who was one of the vanguard artists of the free jazz movement of the seventies (and beyond), has consistently created music that transcends description.  As a founding member of the AACM, with his trio Air, his Sextet, Very Circus Circus ensemble, and his current Zooid ensemble, Threadgill found a home for his unique compositions and instrumental arrangements.  That trend continues on the current Zooid release.

This is an album with a playful cadence.  Sped up or eased down, the staggered hop and skip of percussion makes for a cheerful demeanor that should elicit smiles even when the music is at its most ambiguous.  Album opener “A Day Off” immediately speaks to these qualities.  Ellman’s guitar plays hopscotch with tempo, while Hoffman’s cello swiftly X’s the spots just before and after Ellman’s strings touch down.  Threadgill’s sax leapfrogs over Takeishi’s bass leapfrogging over Kavee’s drums.  Davila sits by the wayside, chuckling on tuba.  It’s an odd tune, yes, but very friendly, and in the grand scheme of Threadgill’s career, it’s the type of unexpected that one should come to expect.

“Tomorrow Sunny” features guitar twang, trombone sighs, and rapid-fire flute, with the rhythm section maintaining a brisk gallop.  It builds slow, builds strong, and becomes an inexorable force that shows no sign of ending until, suddenly, it does.

“So Pleased, No Clue” features the sporadic groan of bass, wavering sax notes, and asynchronous plucking of strings.  It’s a picture of a dripping faucet if Salvador Dali were the plumber.

“See the Blackbird Now” is sunlight refracted through a magnifying glass.  Bass flute flutters about, plucked guitar strings nimbly tiptoe through the composition, cello offers a serenade to no one in particular, and tuba plays tug-of-war with bass.  The tune drifts and darts back and forth in a concentrated area, quiet and unimposing, but with a concentrated strength that could burn leaves.

“Ambient Pressure Thereby” is a song for the sprinters.

“Put On Keep / Frontispiece, Spp” returns to similar territory of “See the Blackbird Now,” but is more typified by unsubtle whispers and unmasked gurgles and burps.  The song quivers while scraping a sharp edge over fresh ice.  It’s a lesson that tiny beauties can peacefully coexist with unapologetic flaws.

And that’s the final album tune.  There is one final track which recites album information for the visually impaired.  It’s something that I address in yesterday’s column, here.

It’s an album that presents its own particular challenges, but offers the kind of results that make the effort so damn rewarding.  Speaking for my own experience, I’ve been familiar with Threadgill’s music for many many years, always had a distant appreciation for it, sometimes liked it well enough.  However, seeing him perform with the Zooid ensemble live at the Chicago Jazz Fest a few years back, it was like the heavens opened up and everything became clear to me.  Now, Threadgill’s music sounds more vivid and fascinating to me than ever before.  When I speak of “rewards,” that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Released on the Pi Recordings label.

Available at Amazon: CD | MP3