Henry Threadgill Zooid


Henry Threadgill Zooid
This Brings Us To, Volume 1
Pi Recordings : 2009

HT, alto sax, flute; Liberty Ellman, guitar; Jose Davila, trombone, tuba; Stomu Takeishi, bass; Elliot Humberto Kavee, drums.

Zooid: A cell that is able to move independently of the larger organism to which it belongs.

Wave the flag, bang the drum, and shout hurrah, for a new Henry Threadgill record is before us. We are incredibly pleased to be able to exclusively preview two tracks — streaming, at the artist’s request — from this wonderful upcoming disc. You can’t hear this music anywhere else.

This is Threadgill’s first release in some time. The limited-edition vinyl release of Pop Start the Tape, Stop in 2004 was so below the radar that the All Music Guide doesn’t even list it. And his last CD releases were 2001’s two-fer on Pi: Everybodys Mouth’s A Book and Up Popped the Two Lips.

Up Popped the Two Lips featured the debut of the Zooid ensemble. While it’s an excellent album in its own right, you can hear some tentativeness in the performances. This Brings Us To showcases the Zooid band in full flower, having spent almost eight years perfecting their system of compositional improv. Both as a band and as players, they’re firing on all cylinders. The new tunes are more nuanced, complex, and frankly, exciting.

“To undertake my corners open” and “After some time” are two of the album’s most propulsive tracks, effortlessly weaving solos into an ever-shifting pulse of brass and rhythm. The tunes offer immediate and visceral pleasures, but the textures are also more slippery than Threadgill’s previous work. Give them a few spins for maximum impact.

Although the music speaks for itself, we’d like to spotlight Liberty Ellman‘s astonishing guitar playing. His gifts have grown dramatically over the years and he offers some of the album’s most startling and immediate moments. (He also produced the record.)

Henry Threadgill generously agreed to sit down with us to discuss the new album and what he’s been up to recently. We turn it over to him:

On his compositions: It’s a language; the musicians have to learn this language so that they can play this music,  and we can play as a group, and accomplish a level of communication and ensemble [cohesion], like a baseball team or a basketball team…. That communication is past anything you can see. You can’t see communication on a basketball team. If you can see it, it’s not a good team. It’s psychic…that’s the ensemble, an ensemble is always psychic.

On notation vs. improvisation: [The songs on This Brings Us To are] notated and improvised. I can’t give you percentages on each piece. Regardless of the percentages , the level of performance and communication at that time — we were at the height of our communicative powers. We came right off tour and played immediately at the Jazz Gallery three nights, and right out of there into the studio…. You got to play when you’re hot…. Basically, everything was one take… about 90% of two albums was done in one take.

On his relatively scant recorded output: It has to do with the demands of the record industry. This group came together at about the time of the demise of the record industry…. I never depended that much on recordings to keep a band together. That’s basically the documentation…. These are just CDs. I  make CDs the way you used to make albums…I don’t believe in putting a whole lot of material on an album, just because you got the space, y’know? It’s like someone brings you a plate and fills it up with food, and do you have to eat it all? I don’t think so… albums, they were just about right, for the American listening public.

On his current ambitions: I would like to be able to do what I’m doing, 100%, without any problems.

Some of the artists name-checked by HT during the course of our conversation: Varese, Stockhausen, Bernstein, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Edward Said, Manet, Monk, Van Gogh, Reich, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Barbara Streisand, Aaron Copland, Elliot Carter, Charles Ives, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Benny Goodman, Anthony Braxton, Robert Altman.

On art: The one thing I  can say that I’ve learned about culture is that it can humanize mankind, and make [one] more sensitive to oneself and to other people. That is the one thing that art will do for you. That is something that you can’t…it’s intangible…that’s why our country don’t see any value in it, because you can’t touch it…. It makes for better people… makes them sensitive to things…and [this belief] informs me.

Pi Recordings is having a sale right now; you can also order This Brings Us To there and get it first from Pi before any other vendors. The official on-sale date is 27 October. Those in and around NYC on Sunday, 25 October, will get a rare chance to see this band in action, at Roulette. Threadgill will unveil a new, commissioned piece for a slightly augmented Zooid, and the band will also play selections from the album.

So there you go. If you find this only whets your appetite for things Threadgillian, there’s no better place to turn next than the extensive discography and bibliography compiled here. And, oh, volume two? Look for it in 2010.

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