Thursday, December 02, 2010

CD Review: Henry Threadgill Zooid: This Brings Us To, Volume II

Henry Threadgill Zooid
This Brings Us To, Vol. II

On "Polymorph," the fourth of five tracks on the new Henry Threadgill album, the AACM veteran and his quintet hit upon a theme that has a slightly repetitive shape to it. The other tracks have sections that could be considered heads, because they feel different from the moments where several players are improvising over one another (around one another may be a more accurate description). Threadgill's entrances in each piece bring things together after everyone's multi-directional blowing, but his alto saxophone in "Polymorph" is the one place where he sticks with one concise idea and restates it a few times. After listening intently to Zooid, this moment almost feels like a reward.

Pi Recordings released Volume 1 of This Brings Us To last year, and the follow-up comes from the same sessions. This is not simple music, and clearly the touring the group did prior these sessions sharpened up their cohesive qualities. Drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee and bassist Stomu Takeishi are definitely into a groove on the opening 10-minute "Lying Eyes," but not the traditional in-the-pocket kind of way. Kavee accents and supports, and it's hard to feel a time signature in his playing, while Takeishi plays intense assymetrial lines in the title track with a strong intensity.

The perplexing thing about the album is that its leader doesn't come across as such. If given a blindfold test, most people might think this is a Liberty Ellman album. The guitarist (who also keeps popping up as a top notch studio engineer on numerous albums, by the way) always seems to be the one at the front of each piece leading the group. Threadgill on the other hand, lays back. He plays a brief flute line early on "Lying Eyes" and returning later for a solo with a lot of open space between phrases. He doesn't show up until the final few minutes of the title track to steer things towards Jose Davila's tuba coda.

This is only a criticism if one expects something clear cut and easy to digest, and Threadgill is not the type to do that anyway. It's better than to try and discern what course that this band is taking. It almost makes you want to hear each instrumentalist isolated to clearly hear what they play and how it relates to the quintet. Or how it contrasts and still works.

The last track on the album is titled "It Never Moved," ironically because it does move. Davila (who also doubles on trombone) gets into a groove with Kavee, and Threadgill and Ellman play parallel solos before the guitarist really takes off in a pithy statement. Most of the album up until this point sticks the same middle ground dynamic level, the only real problem with the set because that levels off some of the intensity and makes the ballad-like moments feel just as subdued as the more pointed ones.

But again, Threadgill is not here to make it easy. He's here to intrigue, which this album does with each deep investigation.

[Addendum: There some word or phrase in this review that has made it subject to numerous spams of all types. I'm dismantling the comment section because even though Blogger deletes them immediately, I'm getting tired on the endless barrage of emails which include the comments.]