Henry Threadgill – This Brings Us To, Volume II (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

About this time last year Henry Threadgill ended a eight year hiatus from the recording studio and released This Brings Us To, Vol. 1. It was very well received, and made almost everyone’s year-end “best of” jazz albums for 2009, including ours. On one day short of a year since that release, Threadgill and his Zooid band are back again with—what else?—This Brings Us To, Volume II.

For those expecting Threadgill to take one of his stylistic turns and field a new band full of seemingly incompatible instruments, this ain’t it. Not only does this have the same title except for the volume number, the CD sleeve design is the same; all they did was change the color scheme a little bit.

The music? Yes sir, same approach as Volume I. It would be unfair to criticize Threadgill for giving us a sequel instead of a completely new movie, though. The music contained within comes from the same November, 2008 sessions that produced the last year’s record, so it’s more apt to think of This Brings Us To as a 2 CD set, with each CD released on separate dates. Thus, as before, Threadgill played flute and alto sax, Liberty Ellman played acoustic guitar (and, evidently, electric guitar on a couple of tracks), Jose Davilia handled both trombone and tuba duties, Stomu Takeishi performed on bass guitar and Elliot H. Kavee manned the drums. Ellman also produced both Volumes.

The distinguishing feature of this record is like the prior one and for many of other Threadgill’s records: his highly unusual compositional style. The notes aren’t atonal or necessarily dissonant, but move in very unusual ways. Instead of being built on static melodies, they are built on chunks of composed music, called “interval blocks,” each of which belongs to a player where they are free to improvise their own melodies. As a result, each song has its own character without having much in the way of conventional song structure.

“Lying Eyes” (not the Eagles song, not even close) exemplifies that approach. As Takeishi and Kavee establish a rolling, rumbling rhythm pattern, Ellman gets first crack at the song. His acoustic guitar establishes some faintly flamenco flourishes before both Threadgill and Davila enter on flute and trombone, respectively, to make a short statement. Davila proceeds to improvise on his own extensively, followed by Threadgill. Each of the soloists are given a wide berth to create within some broadly but sharply set parameters that allows them to be unrestricted by scales or roots, without having to wail away aimlessly.

The rest of the album follows this pattern, and the distinction between them are the individual and group performances. I’m always intrigued when Davila plays the tuba, especially on “This Brings Us To,” “Extremely Sweet William” and “It Never Moved,” because it creates a redundancy with Takeishi in the lower registers. But employing Threadgill’s theories on improvisation, the two are free to create their own competing bass lines independent of each other. Since this band has been honing this distinct approach for ten years now, they’ve gotten quite good at handling the demands of their leader’s approach, it really sounds like a tight unit for one that plays such fluid compositions.

As a straight continuation of This Brings Us To, Volume I, Henry Threadgill is apparently surmising that a second helping of This Brings Us To, Volume I is what his audience wants. Given the warm reception of the first volume, I’d expect the second volume to get some praise, too. I might like to see Mr. Threadgill try something completely new yet again the next go around, but no one can be too unhappy about getting two new Threadgill releases in the span of 364 days. Shoot, I’ll gladly take that.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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