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|Reviews that mention Henry Threadgill
Henry Threadgill Zooid
This Brings Us To Volume II
Pi Recording PI 36
Nicolas Caloia Quartet
No # No label
Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver
ILK 162 CD
William Parker & ICI Ensemble
Winter Sun Crying
Neos Jazz 41008
Something In The Air: Guelph Jazz Festival 2011
By Ken Waxman
--For Whole Note Vol. 17 #1
A highlight of the international calendar, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF), September 7 to 11, has maintained its appeal to both the adventurous and the curious over 18 years. It has done so mixing educational symposia with populist outdoor concerts, featuring performers ranging from established masters to experimenters from all over the world.
For example, American alto saxophonist/flautist Henry Threadgill appears at the River Run Centre on September 10 with his Zooid quintet. A frequent GJF visitor bassist William Paker is featured in at least four ensembles; twice with Toronto vocalist Christine Duncan’s Element Choir Project on September 9 at St. George’s Anglican Church and September 10 at the outdoor Jazz Tent; on September 11 as part of an all-star quartet in Cooperators Hall; and in the same spot on September 8, with pianist Paul Plimley and drummer Gerry Hemingway. Sharing the bill is Tilting, a quartet led by Montreal bassist Nicolas Caloia. Meanwhile Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker is part of an afternoon performance September 10 at Cooperators Hall with two Americans, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
Supplely slinky, bouncingly rhythmic and unmistakable original, Zooid’s This Brings Us To Volume II Pi Recording PI 36 clearly delineates Threadgill’s compositional smarts expressed by the band. Many of the tracks depend on the contrasts engendered by mixing Liberty Ellman’s nylon-string guitar licks with the snorts from Jose Davila’s gutbucket trombone or surging tuba plus cross-sticking and rolls from drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee. The most characteristic track is “Polymorph”, with a sardonic melody that suggests Kurt Weill’s Berlin period. Here Threadgill’s astringent saxophone timbres are first framed by snapping frails from Ellman and latter arrive at contrasting double counterpoint with the thick pop of Stomu Takeishi’s bass guitar.
Floating Islands ILK 162 CD) demonstrates the cohesive skills of the Anker/Taborn/Cleaver group. Recorded at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, the selections demonstrate the trio’s extrasensory perception. With Anker rotating among soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, the band divides according to the improvisation; sections are devoted to saxophone-piano, saxophone-drum or saxophone-drum interaction. Hard reed buzzes bring out cascading choruses from Taborn for instance, while the pianist’s unconventional key clicks are met by the saxophonist’s arching split tones and tongue flutters plus swirling cymbals and snare backbeats. Sometimes the narrative becomes a mass of chiaroscuro patterns from all, with the palpable tension finally breached by Anker’s chirping tones and Taborn’s glissandi. “Backwards River” is an extended example of this, as galloping runs from Taborn arrive after an exposition of gritty reed tones. Before the climax, involving Cleaver knitting rat-tat-tats and tom-tom rolls into a forceful solo, the sax and piano sounds surge from gentle swing to jagged altissimo intersections rife with polyphonic smears.
Combination spark plug and spiritual guide Parker’s gigs at GJF 2011 are with a vocal chorus and two instrumental groupings. Winter Sun Crying recorded with Munich’s nine-piece ICI Ensemble Neos Jazz Neos 41008 demonstrates the skills he brings to groups of any size or instrumentation. The CD captures a 15-part suite which waxes and wanes between legato and atonal contributions. Parker’s contributions on piccolo trumpet, double reeds, shakuhachi and bass are integrated within the composition. As band members move throughout from aleatoric solos to tutti and contrapuntal passages, he adds walking to keyboardist Martin Wolfrum’s precise chording as drummer Sunk Pöschl’s clatters and pops; or lets his pinched reed contrast with upturned harmonies from ICI’s three woodwinds and trombone. The ensemble never nestles in any style or genre. Roger Jannotta’s faux-baroque piccolo decorations are as germane to the performance as Markus Heinze’s guttural baritone sax snorts, while oscillated processes from Gunnar Geisse’s laptop or trombonist Christofer Varner’s sampler are responsible for the composition’s outer-space-like undertone. Meanwhile the downward shifting of Johanna Varner’s spiccato cello lines join with Wolfrum’s dynamic chording to propel the horns away from dissonance towards linearism. The finale, “Let’s Change the World”, not only refers back to the head, but weaves gradually diminishing string scrubs, piano key pummels and alternately breathy or splintering reed tones into an echoing statement.
Another bassist/composer is Caloia, whose Quartet CD Tilting No # No label, is a microcosm of Montreal’s scene. Completed by saxophone/flutist Jean Derome, pianist Guillaume Dostaler and percussionist Isaiah Ceccarelli, the disc highlights the bassist’s approach. While Caloia’s connective ostinato is felt throughout, this high-energy showcase gives everyone space. Impressive on each of his horns, Derome’s bass flute adds appropriately breathy tones, evolving contrapuntally with Dostaler’s comping on “Stare”. Meanwhile the husky textures Derome propels from baritone saxophone make “Locked” a stop-time swinger, especially when Ceccarelli’s solo folds flams, shuffles and ratamacues together. Derome’s singsong alto phrasing is all over the other two pieces, both of which feature brief but attentive solos from Caloia, whose string slaps and thumps concentrate the action. The pianist’s languid note cascades are showcased spectacularly on “Safety” where he interrupts Derome’s forays into false registers with an interlude of harmonized chording and rubato key fanning.
As this group of sound explorers join many other of similar quality during the annual GJF, it’s not surprising that this little festival has reached satisfying maturity without the compromises that impinge on many larger celebrations.
September 5, 2011
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)
September 13, 2010
A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music
By George E. Lewis
University of Chicago Press
Home from his studies at Yale University in 1971, trombonist George Lewis was walking to his parents’ home on Chicago’s South Side when he heard unusual sounds coming from a nearby brick building. Peering inside he saw a group practicing what he calls “fascinating” music. Asking if he could attend future rehearsals, Lewis was grudgingly welcomed into what he soon found out was the disciplined but inventive milieu of the Association of the Advancement Musicians (AACM).
Shortly afterwards he became a member, and subsequently an official of the organization, founded by a group of Chicago’s most accomplished, jazz-directed improvisers in 1965. Forty-three years later the AACM – which one European critic describes as “a guarantee of quality” for improvised music – is recognized world-wide as “the first [successful] avant-garde co-operative in the United States”. A music professor at New York’s Columbia University, Lewis uses his insider’s perspective to write this comprehensive history of the organization. Knitting together 92 interviews and extensive research, A Power Stronger Than Itself stands out as exemplary jazz scholarship that also appeals to the non-academic.
Basically, the reason why the AACM has managed to survive into its fifth decade, while similar organizations have disappeared, is because as Lewis writes, “the collective conception that dominated the AACM both institutionally and artistically challenged the commodification of individuality itself – the ‘star system’ with its sharp division between ‘leader’ and ‘sideman’ that has been authoratively written into the discursive cannon of jazz”.
That doesn’t mean that some AACM members aren’t internationally renowned – reedists Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams come to mind. It’s just that the association’s growth has always been predicated on its collegial connection with the working class Black community of Chicago’s south side where it spawned. AACM members still promote its original nine-point program from 1965 that promises to stimulate cultural tradition, increase employment opportunities for creative musicians, provide composers’ workshops, like the one that impressed Lewis, and operate a school for aspiring musicians. AACM bands such as reedist Ed Wilkerson’s 8 Bold Souls and flautist Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble are still a constant Chicago presence.
However Lewis also notes that as significant for the ACCM’s survival, and its influence – which has gone past jazz’s boundaries to affect what he calls “whiteness-based” musics such as rock and so-called classical – is the decision from the beginning to emphasis the primacy of original music and the composer. Many first-generation AACMers – including, Lewis, Abrams, Braxton, violinist Leroy Jenkins, reedists Henry Threadgill, Joseph Jarman and others who left Chicago and formed a New York chapter in 1982 – deal with idioms that move across genres. Involved with theatre, poetry, sound collage and multi-media, the post-modern art music composed by these individuals is as likely to include references to minimalism and neo-classicism as the jazz tradition. As Lewis writes: “AACM musicians felt that experimentation in music need not be bound to particular ideologies, methods or slogans.” Musically, the AACM’s paramount contribution to experimental improvised music is a sense of dynamics. Unlike the New York-based New Thing of the 1960s, “the Chicago people got intense, but they also got soft and they were also incorporating other sounds into their music,” Lewis quotes Mitchell saying.
Describing the parallel development between the self-described “more conservative” Chicago-based AACM and the experimental New York wing is another way in which this volume supersedes earlier studies of the association. Lewis does situate the AACM in relation to other avant-garde collectives such as New York’s Jazz Composers Guild, St. Louis’ Black Artists Group and Los Angeles’ Underground Musicians Association (see Musicworks #96). He outlines how a supportive group of writers, music presenters and record labels allowed the collective to become better know. Braxton, Jenkins and the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEOC) – which included Jarman and Mitchell – gained greater recognition during a two-year, late-1960s relocation to France.
However the French romanticizing a link between the association and radical Black Nationalism was discursive. These players’ intra-musical experiences plus resentment from Chicagoans, who felt that the AEOC was monopolizing the AACM, necessitated a separate New York chapter.
A Power Stronger Than Itself is also universal enough to deal with topics usually ignored by others. Lewis’ penultimate chapter itemizes how the ACCM has finally evolved from being a literal “old boy’s club” into addressing its gender imbalance. From first-hand accounts, he doesn’t sugar-coat the situation that initially any female musician had a hard time being accepted into the AACM, and that it wasn’t until 1992 that Samia, become the association’s first all-woman band. Even today female AACM members are more the exception than the rule, although Nicole Mitchell is the association’s co-chair
Recalling his experience and those of his AACM peers such as Braxton he also exposes the barriers that Black composers like themselves face when they write music outside the codified jazz tradition. Neither fish nor fowl, their creations are rejected by jazz purists for not swinging or being blues based, and by the classical establishment for being African-American, even he says, in the so-called downtown New music world. Such aids to experimental composers as university professorships, endowed chairs, performance ensembles and electronic music studios are monopolized by musicians hostile to improvisation and African American music.
Although he was only one of three African American composers affiliated with important experimental efforts such as 1992’s New Music, New York, since then the subsidy situation has improved, with several AACM composers are beneficiaries of major fellowships. Slightly beyond this volume’s purview, grant politics should be examined in the context of post-modern music in 21st Century. However readers of A Power Stronger Than Itself discover how the AACM, a grass roots association, evolved to participate in these discussions.
Considering that an AACM-organized, 50-member ensemble was available to play Abrams’ orchestral composition as part of the association’s 40th anniversary celebrations in Chicago, composers and performers from the ACCM will sure to be involved in whatever constitutes modern music for decades to come.
-- Ken Waxman
In MusicWorks Issue #101
July 2, 2008
HENRY THREADGILL & MAKE A MOVE
Everybodys Mouths A Book
PI Recordings PI01
HENRY THREADGILLS ZOOID
Up Popped The Two Lips
PI Recordings PI02
Five years after his unsatisfactory major label dalliance ended, composer/saxophonist Henry Threadgill is back with not one, but two new CDs on a brand-new label. Showcasing one quintet and an almost wholly different sextet performing new Threadgills pieces, the sessions are exhilarating and comfortable at the same time. Thats because the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)s most iconoclastic writer is still finding new ways to express himself while staying faithful to the jaunty compositional system he developed as long ago as the early 1990s.
There are some changes however. With Zooid for instance, he has added an oud -- played by Tarik Benbrahim -- to what now seems to be standard Threadgill instrumentation of acoustic guitar (played by Liberty Ellman), cello (Dana Leong), tuba (Jose Davila), drums (Dafnis Prieto) and his own alto saxophone and flute. Make A Move -- which has existed for some time -- may have Threadgill and the same drummer on board, but the band is filled out by Bryan Carrotts vibes or marimba, Brandon Rosss guitars and Stomu Takeishis basses.
Threadgill has been quoted as saying that while his music may be radically different most listeners dont cotton on to that because the difference in approach doesnt sound radical. Without construing this as a put down, you can say that he writes easy listening atonal music. Both these CDs reflect the sum total of the reedmans musical experience. This includes improvisations with his own combos such as Air and Very, Very Circus, stints playing in marching and army bands while in the military, and sounds created when he was jobbing in show bands, pit bands and even funeral bands.
Well, actually, except for the underpinning of a couple of sorrowful ballads, theres a lot less of the last type of music than any other -- most of the compositions seem pretty upbeat. Plus like Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill and other canny creators of his generation, Threadgill knows that most folks will accept all sorts of deviance in the front line just as long as theres a steady beat in the background.
Cuban drummer Prieto obviously fits the bill as beat master and the only holdover on both discs. And he justifies this faith with the subtle use of Latin accents from his cowbells and wood blocks. The electric pulse of Takeishis basses adds to the drum cushion in Make A Move, while Davila near-unvarying brass bottom linked to Prietos percussion pushes does the same for Zooid.
Make A Move also gets its shape from Rosss guitars. A long-time associate of the saxophonist, his bluesy, rock-inflected, definitely electric guitar runs or racing car quick nylon string strums define each composition on which theyre featured. When his electric machine intertwines with Threadgills straightforward, miasmic flute it brings to mind those years Sonny Sharrock powered Herbie Manns combo. This impression is reinforced when Carrotts fleet, dancing mallet work partners with Prietos tougher approach. Imagine Milt Jackson recording with Pretty Purdie.
Only in existence since 2000, Zooid appears to take variations of Make A Moves jaunty themes to a Greek wedding through Benbrahims oud and Ellmans nylon string guitar. Of course its not a traditional Hellenic celebration, since the overtones that blast out of Davilas brass beast are heavy enough to accompany themselves. At times, as on Calm Down which couples them with the rat-tat-tat of the snare drum, you figure this must be military nuptials.
On the other hand, can Do The Needful be a POMO salute to some of those dance tunes like Walkin The Dog, Twine Time or Do The Funky Chicken that Threadgill would have had to accompany in a pit band? Certainly theres potential for some fancy footwork here as motifs are tossed back and forth from reverberating tuba and the cat gut slides of the cello. The saxist even unveils his fruity, vibrato-laden alto sonority that appears to be one part King Curtis to two parts Ornette Coleman.
The only criticism that can be leveled at both discs is the intermediate length of a couple of slower tunes. Had they been cut off after the initial theme statement or left to gather steam at greater length they would have been more effective.
All and all, though, this is a minor caveat. Think of these as quietly subversive CDs that could as easily impress a newbie who thinks jazz began with Medeski, Martin & Wood as a sophisticate who appreciate Threadgill and the AACMs entire history.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Everybody: 1. Platinum Inside Straight 2. Dont Turn Around 3. Biggest Crumb 4. Burnt Til Recognition 5. Where Coconuts Fall 6. Pink Water Pink Airplane 7. Shake It Off 8. What To Do,What To Do
Personnel: Everybody: Henry Threadgill (alto saxophone, flute); Bryan Carrott (vibraphone, marimba); Brandon Ross (electric guitar, acoustic guitar); Stomu Takeishi (electric bass and acoustic bass guitar); Dafnis Prieto (drums)
Track Listing: Popped: 1.Tickled Pink 2. Dark Black 3. Look 4. Around My Goose 5. Calm Down 6. Did You See That 7. Do The Needful
Personnel: Popped: Henry Threadgill (alto saxophone, flute); Liberty Ellman (acoustic guitar); Tarik Benbrahim (oud); Dana Leong (cello); Jose Davila (tuba); Dafnis Prieto (drums)
January 24, 2002