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Henry Threadgill Zooid - This Brings Us To, Vol. 1

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Artist: Henry Threadgill Zooid

Album: This Brings Us To, Vol. 1

Label: Pi Recordings

Review date: Oct. 26, 2009

In 2001, Pi Recordings was launched with two simultaneous releases by multi-instrumentalist and composer Henry Threadgill -- Everybody’s Mouth’s a Book came courtesy of his Make a Move electric ensemble, and Up Popped the Two Lips featured the acoustic Zooid, which was then a fairly new Threadgill aggregate. Now, for Pi’s 31st release, the band returns with a somewhat different sound but a similarly exciting approach.

The first Zooid album demonstrated hints of exoticism thanks to an oud (or Middle Eastern lute). That instrument does not figure into Zooid’s new configuration, which features Threadgill on flute and alto, Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar, Jose Davila on trombone and tuba, Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass and Elliot Humberto Kavee in the drum chair. Takeishi’s playing, in particular, facilitates a new kind of group dialogue. It’s most radical manifestations are heard on the opening and closing tracks, “White Wednesday Off the Wall” and “Mirror Mirror the Verb.” After a gorgeously disjunct introductory melody with Threadgill on flute, inter-registral guitar and bass harmonics and pointilisms vie with meditative spaces in a riveting display of staticity, the other musicians gradually joining in but careful not to disrupt the rapt intensity. The closing tune follows a similar path but with a harder sound, reflecting what has transpired in the interim.

Takeishi and Ellman maintain a similar relationship through all six pieces, but the rhythmic context in which they work is quite different. There’s often a groove, but exact meter is delightfully hard to pin down. Off-beat accents and contrapuntal group interplay see to that. Just contrast the opening track with “To Undertake My Corners Open” to hear the sudden change in feel. As with Miles Davis’ 1970s groups and with Wayne Shorter’s current one, collective improvisation abounds in the service of a constantly changing but unified vision that highlights tiny melodic motives and rhythmic precision.

Threadgill’s playing sums up the aesthetic. He jabs highly-charged, repeated notes into “Sap”’s already dense structure, adding polyrhythmic layers as Ellman, Kavee and Davila interweave a steady stream of rapid-fire exhortations.

The groups sound is thrillingly thorney, Threadgill’s alto saxophone and flute tones brusk and rough at key moments, rich and velvety at others. As with fellow AACM member Roscoe Mitchell, his sonic and expressive pallets are broad, each multi-hewed gesture somehow focusing all others around it. Interestingly, each Zooid member manages this feat at key moments. Davila’s approach, in particular, is a study in contrast, wildly exuberant attacks juxtaposed suddenly with smooth swells and ebbs.

Each Threadgill project has produced markedly different music, and Zooid is no exception. Elements of their sound can be traced back to his AACM roots, but on This Brings Us To, Vol. 1, he has fostered an original vision that combines elements of funk, jazz and contemporary classical with remarkable fluidity.

By Marc Medwin

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