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Henry Threadgill Zooid - Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp

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Artist: Henry Threadgill Zooid

Album: Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp

Label: Pi Recordings

Review date: Jul. 25, 2012

When there were no new Henry Threadgill releases for a period of several years, I experienced mild anxiety. I knew the great composer and instrumentalist was not suffering ill health, and that his departure from Columbia Records may have been an inevitability (though I still think they missed a golden opportunity in failing to record and release anything by Threadgill’s Society Situation Dance Band). No, the anxiety came from my own unfed jones for one of my all-time favorites. Thankfully, Pi Recordings was there to pick up where they’d left off in 2001 and this is the third recent release for Threadgill’s Zooid.

With just a few lineup modifications over the years, this steady working band — with Threadgill on flute, bass flute, and alto, Liberty Ellman on guitar, José Davila on trombone and tuba, Christopher Hoffman on cello, Stomu Takeishi on bass guitar, and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums — has really found its way into Threadill’s singular, and usually very unpredictable compositions. The key player in many ways is Ellman, since his unvarnished acoustic phraseology cuts across the complex harmonies and shifting rhythms in ways that, on the one hand, bring clarity to the shape of the composition while also making you wonder continually if you’ve got it right, and if that isn’t just a particularly well-wrought solo he’s playing. That in itself sums up the Threadgill experience fairly well, with a kind of seamlessness between score and moment, a continual rhythmic flow that seems at the same time untethered, and a real feel for polyphony that’s been growing steadily since Threadgill’s earliest playing days (but which never feels cluttered, each detail seeming to have a specific purpose).

So yeah, Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp has a fabulous group sound. Threadgill always has to have some low brass, and Davila’s double duty is exceptional. Christopher Hoffman’s cello hearkens back to Threadgill’s Sextett bands with Deidre Murray (and his terrific opening to “See the Blackbird Now” is a marvelous set-up for that tune’s slowly snaking bass flute and tuba line, all graceful multi-phonics). Takeishi has been with Threadgill for getting on two decades, and knows this stuff inside out. His language is supple and quizzical, a rounded and almost fretless sound that contributes greatly to the regular feel of oozing between sections that you get in Threadgill’s music (just hear him spread out and then draw back in on “So Pleased, No Clue”). And Kavee’s drum language is like an incredible twittering machine.

Things simply wheel together, rhizomes and long chains of information striating throughout the space that the tunes themselves create. Wood and wire and metal all come alive with such excitement and innovation, but at the same time with a genuine invitingness and accessibility. After the spare disorientation of “A Day Off,” Zooid carves out some flinty funk on “Tomorrow Sunny” with Kavee and Ellman laying it down strong while Threadgill, on flute, pulls off that old magic trick where he seems to occupy his tunes so deeply that he floats spectrally above them, until he drops down to insist on an exclamation or a trill. Like waves, Tomorrow Sunny moves between these terse, stuttering pieces (like the fine contrapuntal froth of “Ambient Pressure Thereby”) and elliptical, almost fragmentary ones like “So Pleased, No Clue” or the querulous closer “Put On Keep/Frontispiece, Spp” (followed by a bizarre and unexpected recitation of the recording information).

Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp is, then, like other Threadgill records: a spell cast on you. While it’s on, I find it almost impossible not to become absorbed in this utterly alien, completely idiosyncratic music. And yet it’s the sound of street bustle, memories merging, a vernacular music from somewhere you’ve never heard of. There’s just no one like this guy, and each record is a true treat.

By Jason Bivins

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