Picks and Pans Review: Easily Slip into Another World

UPDATED 05/30/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/30/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

Henry Threadgill

"I'm an emotional person, a highly emotional person, and I like emotional music," the composer and saxophonist Henry Threadgill told an interviewer not long ago. The emotions that Threadgill's music expresses are not only diverse, they color, comment upon and compound each other as his compositions strut, shimmy and tumble along. To accommodate them all, he has developed one of the more incandescent writing styles in jazz today. In a Threadgill composition the structure is usually expansive, with subthemes, recapitulations, tempo changes and shifting ensemble voicings, all tending to up the emotional ante as the piece progresses. The themes and harmonies, meanwhile, tend to be bluesy, boisterous, droll, melancholy, often reminiscent of New Orleans marching music, Caribbean dances or other folk influences. They can also be as sophisticated and dramatic as My Rock, in which guest soprano Aisha Putli slithers high over the rocks of an eerily beautiful landscape charted by Threadgill's seven-member sextet (he counts drummers Pheeroan Aklaff and Reggie Nicholson as one collective instrument). A good example of Threadgill's wizardry is the invigorating Black Hands Bejewelled, which in its first minute lays out three sprightly, interrelated themes in a pattern of A,B,C,B,C,A, then repeats the pattern over and over, each time gathering force and opening windows for the soloists. Trombonist Frank Lacy ends his lusty solo with a growling upward glissando that launches trumpeter Rasul Siddik, who blurts out an opening line so electric and tantalizing that it could make a theme in itself. Threadgill, 43, who was born in Chicago and came to prominence there as the composer and reed man of the acclaimed trio Air, completes his sextet with Diedre Murray on cello and Fred Hopkins on bass. The strings create a fascinating webbing, richly rhythmic, that gives the group an airiness and flexibility a piano would fill. A biting, angular soloist himself, particularly on alto, Threadgill uses his sextet to bring back a jazz tradition that was lost in the storms of the first avant-garde explosion in the '60s: the short pithy solo, almost always spurred on by a few strategic lashes from the other horns. He does blow a brilliant long solo on the weirdly named Spotted Dick Is Pudding. It's one of the great cuts released this year, a broad down-on-one-knee comic lamentation that becomes ever more poignant and ecstatic with each succeeding solo. Happy and sad, free and fatalistic at the same time, it's a tinglingly good dance of triumph and despair, culminating in a thrashing drum solo and three triumphant chords that turn the gauge of human folly momentarily back to zero. (RCA/Novus)

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