Label: Pi Recordings, 2018
Personnel – Henry Threadgill: alto sax, flutes; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Chris Hoffman: cello; Jose Davila: tuba; Ben Gerstein: trombone; Jacob Garchik: trombone; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Stephanie Richards: trumpet; Curtis Macdonald: alto sax; Roman Filiú: alto sax, flute; David Virelles: piano; David Bryant: piano; Thomas Morgan: bass; Elliott Humberto Kavee: drums, percussion; Craig Weinrib: drums, percussion
Saxophonist Henry Threadgill, holder of a sui-generis jazz style, debuts his 14 or 15 Ekstra: Agg, another singular project that includes guitar - adroitly handled by longtime collaborator Liberty Ellman, who also produces the record - cello, tuba, two trombones, two trumpets, two or three saxophones (depending on if Threadgill conducts or plays), two pianos, one bass, and two drums.
The album, Dirt… and More Dirt, presents ten compositions that pretty much represent the gravitating sound of the multi-awarded altoist, whose unmistakable signature, built on power, finesse, and mystery, constantly undermines the listeners’ expectations.
The Dirt section comprises six parts, the first of which opens with loose drumming and a cutting bowed bass, later reinforced by the strangeness of the harmonium and the robustness of the cello, whose plucks function as a second bass line. While the low-pitched hops of the tuba create an eccentric groove, Ellman’s guitar solo arrives with that non-conforming feel that characterizes his playing. He finds Virelles’ harmonium chords skittering and zinging behind him. Pianist David Bryant also marvels in his individual statement, at the same time that the sonic curtains get thicker and richer.
“Part II” relies on a piano conversation to make the transition into the unorthodox yet stimulating groove that assaults “Part III”. We understand alto saxes speaking with strange boppish accents and an explicative trombone reasoning with an unfussy guitar next to him. To close, we have unisons delivered with a melodic sinuosity that feels almost religious.
High-pitched trumpet blows can be found on “Part IV”, an exquisite celebration whose exuberance matches that in “Part V”. The latter is enveloped by an imaginative exaltation that comes from the horn section’s blows and reinforced with Weinrib's dry snare drum ruffs. Even when having the flutes chirping atop and the tuba vociferating at a lower level, the drummer's work is the highlight.
“Part VI” flourishes with a guitar ostinato widely expanded in an effusive communion with the actively-involved woodwind and brass instruments. This burning, convulsive altercation is suddenly disrupted to accommodate a passage where dulcet flutes mix with a stalwart trombone. They dance freely as several rattles, gongs, and other percussive elements join them with gusto.
Shorter than the Dirt, the More Dirt section encompasses four tunes that altogether run for around 12 minutes. The attractive polyrhythmic complexity of “Part I” and the solemn pianistic nocturne turned into merry folk stride on “Part IV” are the highlights. The latter piece features the bandleader, who pulls off laments, screams, and contortions with a fiery atonal determination.
As a top-tier experimentalist, Threadgill continues to innovate through a spontaneity and reflex that navigate the abstract and the emotional. For the ones experiencing the saxophonist’s forms and textures for the first time, this can be a real challenge. Yet, it's just a matter of time before concluding that his airy (de)constructions never lack drama or elegance.
01 - Part I ► 03 - Part III ► 07 - Part I (from More Dirt)