Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up - Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi Recordings, 2016)

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill had much in common with the late cornetist and founder of “conduction” Butch Morris. They had played in David Murray’s legendary octet, served in Vietnam but most importantly shared a wide open view of music that wasn’t constrained by tradition. When Morris passed away in 2013, Threadgill thought to acknowledge their lifelong kinship in a way his friend would surely applaud. He he down his own instruments and instead directed a septet of his own through a four section suite dedicated to Morris. The band consists of Jason Moran and David Virelles on pianos, Curtis MacDonald and Roman Filiu on alto saxophones, Jose Davila on tuba, Christopher Hoffman on cello, and Craig Weinrib on drums. The music is a continuous suite, but it is indexed into four parts, so “Part One” has spare pianos pushing and pulling the music as the drums enter and the horns add an ominous tone to the music. The cello enters and the music begins to gain speed with exciting keyboard and drum clashes. I love the way Davila’s tuba sounds in the mix of this music. He could be considered the bass, but he is really so much more. There is tight alto saxophone weaving through the ensemble, one with a lighter tone, and one a touch darker to add further texture to this deep and lustrous music. Pianos flutter with tuba, cello and percussion as the saxes return to create a wild fantasia of musical color and splendor, as things mellow to a skittish drum and tuba section that heralds “Part Two.” This section is much shorter and remains wide open even after the spare pianos and saxophones quietly enter. Everything hangs in space and time and then there is a section for unaccompanied drumming that is very impressive and links to “Part Three” where cool and confident cello and piano join the drums. When the saxophones enter the fray everything gets even better, with taut horns and deep propulsive drumming driving the music ever faster, making for a mighty improvisation that is a joy to hear. Things back off a bit with strummed and plucked cello and cryptic drumming bringing things down a bit and percussive piano playing adding a beautifully enigmatic sensibility to the overall music. Then apropos of nothing there is a complete stop… before soft airy saxophone, rattling drums and fast building cello climb into the concluding “Part Four” which seems to be the most overt to goodbye to Mr. Morris with the pianos playing in a manner that is lonely and elegiac. The ripples and filigrees roll from side to side as the music deepens and darkens with hard striking saxophones rising in raw glory reminiscent of “Psalm” by John Coltrane, before everyone comes together as one to conclude the suite with a rousing and powerful bow to Butch Morris and all of his accomplishments. This was a fantastic album, unreservedly excellent. Threadgill is the consummate risk taker, but he is never reckless. He wrote the music, chose the musicians and trusted them to interpret it in the manner in which he desired and the results were exemplary. This is jazz at the highest level and should not be missed on any account. Old Locks and Irregular Verbs -

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