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5.0 out of 5 stars Six superb new Henry Threadgill compositions from Zooid, June 25, 2012
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This review is from: Tomorrow Sunny & The Revelry (Audio CD)
This new Henry Threadgill Zooid disc from Pi Recordings contains six new compositions recorded in December 2011. It's three quarters of an hour of the highest quality music. The last two releases from this unit (This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 and This Brings Us To, Vol. 2) were from the same late 2008 sessions, so this represents an update three years later.

There are no radical changes to the sound or method. The most significant is the addition of Christopher Hoffman on cello, making Zooid a sextet. He joins the preexisting lineup of Threadgill on alto sax and flutes, Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar, Jose Davila on tuba and trombone, Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass, and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums. This takes Zooid closer to the original concept (as found on Up Popped the 2 Lips from 2001), but with cello instead of oud. Hoffman sounds great, and fits perfectly into this tight ensemble. This is not Threadgill's first use of cello -- several of his Sextett recordings from the 1980s include Dierdre Murray on cello. (The ironically named Sextett, with two "t"s, was actually a septet.)

As with the previous Pi recordings, there are no liner notes included with the disc, but they can be found on the label's website. The band's name and composing method are described as follows:

"Named after a biological term for a cell that is capable of spontaneous movement independent of its parent organism, Threagill's compositions for Zooid assign a set of intervals to each player that serves as the starting point for improvisation. The result is a contrapuntal crazy quilt that materializes with a mysterious logic."

The drummer Kavee describes Threadgill's system: "The spaces between the notes - the intervals in time and pitch - are the elements that we work with in our improvisations. His system generates a constantly shifting negative space - a mutating kaleidoscope of sound, movement and emotion that moves around its own axis."

"A Day Off" begins with HT's alto, giving way to Ellman's guitar, in a pensive, nervous, piece. Kavee plays only cymbal to begin. Hoffman takes over on cello. HT on alto again plays a run up and down, seemingly trying to break free of constraints. Each musician is tightly constrained to play within certain intervals, and so he cannot actually break free! Ellman and Davila on tuba play a passage in tandem, pass back to Hoffman, and then HT and Ellman state the main theme and out.

"Tomorrow Sunny" is also in a minor key, but sounds -- sunnier! than the first piece by comparison, a jaunty, fractured swing like cubist jazz. Davila once again plays tuba, an instrument that Threadgill featured in his Nineties band Very, Very Circus with *two* tubas, alternating here with Ellman, Hoffman, and HT on flute in solos. The piece heats up very nicely to the six-minute mark, and then subsides and concludes with a final unison statement.

"So Pleased, No Clue" is a short piece that does not sound at all pleased, indicating that it is the "no clue" part of the title that applies to anyone who is in fact "so pleased." Takeishi on bass begins quietly and slowly and is joined by HT on mournful, bluesy alto that reminds me of Ornette. The music has slowed to a broken crawl. Following the sax is Davila's tuba, joined by Ellman's guitar. Then Hoffman takes a turn with Ellman and out.

"See the Blackbird Now" is an album highlight. Tentative guitar chords are followed by Hendrix-esque sounds from the cello, which segues into slow, clear, classical-sounding bowing. Cymbals and bass enter, and the cello plays a sad, beautiful melody, joined by guitar. HT enters on bass flute, slow and low, playing long tones with lots of vibrato that sounds like crying. Ellman takes a solo, picking with heavy reverb, gradually joined by everyone but Threadgill, including Davila on trombone for the first time. HT reenters, and plays a unison final statement with Ellman over the rest of band.

"Ambient Pressure Thereby" is the other highlight, a high-energy piece in perfect contrast to "Blackbird." It begins immediately with uptempo drums. All the instruments but Threadgill, including Davila on tuba, join in an intense, driving rhythm, circling, moving upward, building tension. Then HT enters on alto with piercing cries. Davila plays alongside. Next come cello and guitar. Ellman drops out, giving Hoffman a solo, Kavee drumming fiercely the whole while. HT again on alto with his longest solo on the album, expressing anger equal to the sadness of the previous two pieces. The drums coil tightly, crashing and pounding, as guitar chords sound, HT drops out, and then Ellman solos, picking strongly and propulsively, then joined by Davila. The sax then joins the tuba, followed by the guitar/cello pair, and then the final unision statement. Whew!

The last number, with one of Threadgill's patented enigmatic titles -- "Put On Keep/Frontispiece, Spp" -- drops the level of intensity again. It begins with cymbals, and then a trombone solo from Davila, starting slowly and tentatively, with loud smears. All the instruments, including HT on flute, take turns in the lead and various duet leads, in a delicate, serious, probing piece, concluding with Ellman strumming and then picking quietly, and out.

This is another great set from Threadgill and his working band. As usual, I have no idea what the title means, or why part of it comes from song titles and part of it appears nowhere in the song titles. "Revelry" is not a term I would apply to the music -- perhaps the revelry is to happen tomorrow, when it is sunny.

Henry Threadgill continues to pursue his unique, compelling vision, joined by a tight group of musicians capable of conveying that vision. From Air, to the Sextett, through Very, Very Circus and Make a Move to Zooid, Threadgill's music has been some of the best, with the highest level of both composition and improvisation.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 25, 2012 10:59:29 PM PDT
R. Hutchinson, you wrote a masterful review of an amazing record! I just got this CD in Aug12 and listened to it a few days ago. Actually fun to listen to with the amazing textures of the instruments and the structures Henry generated for the group. Interesting how effective the tuba is as a low bass voice, and the cello sounds amazing. Thanks for the great review.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 26, 2012 6:49:05 AM PDT
Autonomeus says:
Thanks, Scott.

Threadgill doesn't release a record until he's got something absolutely excellent for us to hear!

Cheers, Richard

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 2, 2012 12:48:24 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 2, 2012 12:51:21 PM PDT
Hi ! Glad to read such reviews! I guess I'm going to listen to it again, there are details that might have drifted away from me.. ;-) Actually, I'm from France and I myself wrote a 4 star review about this one. Threadgill is building a work that's worth exploring.

I also wanted to draw your attention to what I consider in Europe the best release in improv jazz for 2012 : Quartet: Sweet & Sour.. Personally I was blown away. This music is completely mindblowing ! Check it out some time (soundclips available). ;-)

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 2, 2012 3:31:02 PM PDT
Autonomeus says:
Thanks for the tip!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 10, 2012 12:01:10 PM PDT
My pleasure, as it's my pleasure to read you !

Posted on Mar 23, 2013 6:40:04 AM PDT
A very insightful analysis. As a rule, I tend to shy away from lengthy reviews because, in far too many cases, the reviewer is showboating his ego.

Certainly not the case here. For many, an artist like Threadgill can be rather undaunting upon first blush. You've taken the time to clearly (but efficiently) discuss the recording cut by cut and provide the prosective buyer what he or she will encounter here.

Great effort...thanks!!!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 25, 2013 4:36:08 AM PDT
Autonomeus says:
Thanks, Martin -- I hope you enjoy it.
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