Henry Threadgill’s Zooid

This Brings Us To Volume I
Pi Recordings 31

Another glimpse into the Henry Threadgill world, this singular CD extends the composer/flutist/saxophonist’s sounds rather than alluding to any other current improvised music conceptions. In essence, the tunes on This Brings Us To are part of a unique Klangfarbenmelodie, where every thematic and pitch division advanced by the five musicians are essential to attain the composer’s sonic vision.

Taken mostly legato and moderato, the six compositions are of another extension of what Threadgill has been creating since this century began. Even so, such expected tropes as the preponderance of deep brass tones – supplied by tubaist/trombonist Jose Davila, who also plays in the Spanish Harlem Orchestra – and subtle finger-style guitar licks, courtesy of Liberty Ellman – whose employers have ranged from the San Francisco Mime Troupe (SFMT) to M-Base – remain constant with the reedist’s long-time conception.

All of a piece, these broken-octave compositions also appear to have a strongly notated basis. When any musician solos, for instance, the improvisation seems not to be so much a personal expression as an augmentation of the composer’s aim. An introduction of clinking rebounds, metallic raps, flams and press rolls on “Sap” from drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee – whose lengthiest associations have been with saxophonist Francis Wong plus seven years as the SFMT’s musical director – don’t call attention to him, for example, but rather scene-set. The narrative is then extended with guitar strums and tuba honks, plus irregular vibrations and split tones from Threadgill on alto saxophone. As the other instruments shape their measures choir-like and contrapuntally, the saxophonist’s sharp bites introduce the piece’s finale that includes drum patterns and string strums.

Other linear intermezzos such as “To Understand My Corners Open” are equally advanced by trombone grace notes and flute peeps, until Ellman’s hardening twangs and Davila’s circular brays thicken the interface. It’s then up to piccolo-register peeps from Threadgill’s flute to lighten the final strands. The ending is divided among nears-microtonal rasgueado from the guitarist, tremolo trombone blasts and fluttering contrapuntal fluting.

Overall sequences range between romantic and restrictive. The former are pastoral, mixing chickadee-like flute chirps, emotive guitar picking and pedal-point brass slurs. Conversely, the latter are taken staccato with rigid reed pressure and sustained downwards frails. Despite these differences, each calls on similar harmonic concordance. Since each player’s compositional nuance is glued to the expression of an equally necessary texture from another player, group polyphony creates and measures the tracks’ – and the CD’s – significance.

Deceptively chromatic and harmonic on the surface, the sound construction on this CD is cunningly advanced throughout. Ideal for pleasant listening – though a mite truncated at barely 39 minutes – this volume of This Brings Us To confirms Threadgill’s compositional and Zooid’s interpretive skills. What will Volume 2 bring?

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. White Wednesday Off the Wall 2. To Understand My Corners Open 3. Chairmaster 4. After Some Time 5. Sap 6. Mirror Mirror the Verb

Personnel: Jose Davila (trombone and tuba); Henry Threadgill (flute and alto saxophone); Liberty Ellman (guitar); Stomu Takeishi (bass guitar) and Elliot Humberto Kavee (drum)