Henry Threadgill Zooid – In For a Penny, In For a Pound (2015)

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Pursuing innovative music at the outer regions of jazz has been Henry Threadgill’s game that he’s put into practice through innovative ensembles going back to the Air trio in the 70s. The Zooid concept that the alto saxophonist/flautist introduced in 2001 remains his vehicle for expression today, which might insinuate he’s stalled on an idea for the last fourteen years, but it’s an idea he could mine forever.

henry Threadgill wants to combine chamber music and free improvisation — hardly a new concept — but do so in a way that produces entirely unpredictable yet logical results each time a certain piece is played. By giving each performer dynamic, three note intervals, he can free them up to compose instantaneously and can mostly sit back and watch them collectively create extended harmonics that produce the most peculiar, unique contours.

Like the other four Zooid albums, the six pieces that comprise of In For A Penny, In For A Pound (on sale May 26, 2015 by PI Recordings) are performed for these recordings in a way that will likely never performed like this ever again; Henry Threadgill’s open-ended charts produces entirely different results each time the same piece is played. The variation gets to the very core of the humanness of musical performance; in an ironic twist, Threadgill has used some chamber music concepts to generate music that’s impossible to program even though it produces a meticulous, tightly integrated whole.

But musical theory don’t mean much to most listeners; what they’ll find engaging on In For A Penny lies in the inner workings of these performances as much as the end product. Each musician — Jose Davila (trombone, tuba), Liberty Ellman (acoustic guitar) Christopher Hoffman (cello) and Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums, percussion) sounds like gears in the machinery, each operating on its own frequency but somehow fitting together to make the whole thing run smoothly. The music is evasive, but conforms to some logic that exists only in the moment in which it was created.

For this latest installment of the Zooid idea, Henry Threadgill wanted to make a series of interconnected pieces; four pieces that each highlight each of his four band members, rounded out by a couple of couple of shorter, prologues. Allowing each performance to run to its natural length meant it’s sprawled out over two CD’s, exceeding the single disc limit only by about five minutes. But Threadgill isn’t one to make compromises.

Throughout the suite, the quintet diverges and converges at once, and each of the discreet ‘epic’ tracks contain several movements of their own, usually distinguished by one or two of the participants coming forth to the front to solo. The transitions between these untitled sections can be smooth or abrupt, often marked by busy grooves replaced by sparse moments of space that give the group a place to exhale and regroup. Hrney Threadgill himself will inject himself into it at infrequent times, lending his alto, flute or bass flute at whenever he thinks is appropriate.

The whole seventy-nine minutes of music is a journey of sorts with too many twists to document here, and why spoil the surprise? But any doubts that Threadgill might have lost his chops are easily dispelled by his excellent turn on alto starting about nine minutes into “Unoepic.” That’s the same guy who in his own way could wring passion, swing and melodic invention on those old Air records and up through his celebrated Very Very Circus LP’s from a couple of decades ago.

The Henry Threadgill of yesterday is the Henry Threadgill of today: one of the most sly, elusive and compelling composers, performers and bandleaders of the modern avant-garde. Working in mysterious ways, In For A Penny, In For A Pound is another installment of his ingenuity.

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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