What if we were to say that the Sextett (circa 1980s) was Henry Threadgill's comfort zone, or even his greatness zone? Saying so would not be a means of sealing the crypt of a living master but simply a lens, a filter, a means for piercing the veil. What if we were to say that the great trio Air made possible the revelatory brass band that was the Sextett and since then Very Very Circus exploded it and Make a Move electrified it, that thing that is what makes Threadgill's music so immediately recognizable. What if we were to say that, just for a minute? After all, maps are reductions, drawn to scale but never to perfect proportion. So here we could be said to have a key to the map which is the sound of Henry Threadgill's last four decades.
Why would we do this? Maybe only to cloak the disappointment (as I've acknowledged elsewhere in the past) of his first real retread, his seeming fall from grace (that being the Zooid of the two-double-naughts) and the comeuppance of same in the twenty-tweens (also previously and elsewhere acknowledged). While way back in 2000 the first Zooid release may have lacked luster, the two volumes of This Brings Us To proved Zooid (with the return of electric bassist Stomu Takeishi) to be a cerebral, surreal, sensual, slippery success able at last to stand up against the leader's back catalog. More mature, perhaps, wizened, not set in its map but not quite bustling with excitement and vigor either, which is OK because those are but pacifiers for the fickle and easily amused (amongst the numbers of which I count myself). But having proven themselves able to make high art of the outside-the-academy variety, Zooid returns here to the now with its own entelechy, a quick 45 minutes of giddy id satisfaction, which is to say it starts with a quiet bang and then goes "pow," which is not to say in any way that Threadgill has foregone his weaving of complexities only that this time out it is done with his rejoiceful alto as if Albert Ayler were somehow a sheep, a ram rather, with the avowed assuredness of his second fiddle, guitarist Liberty Ellman, and with the shifting, solid foundation of drums (Elliot Humberto Kavee), trombone and tuba (Jose Davilla), and add to this the melodic voice of cellist Christopher Hoffman, who has been playing with the group for a while but appears here on record with the band for the first time.
So what it's like is this: Threadgill has written a half dozen new, memorable, totally catchy new tunes, only they don't really play them. You've got to listen for them. You've got to work for it and then you'll hear the ebullience that was once the Sextett, the saying of which is a falsehood, a contrivance, a measuring stick made of waves, not particles, yet there it is nevertheless. And surprisingly so. Read 'em and weep.
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