Henry Threadgill - Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus

Label: Pi Recordings, 2018

Personnel – Henry Threadgill: composition, conduction; Roman Filiu: alto sax, flute; Curtis Macdonald: alto sax; David Virelles: piano, harmonium; Chris Hoffman: cello; Jose Davila: tuba; Craig Weinrib: drums, percussion.


Acclaimed alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill, a recipient of 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Music, organizes another intriguing odyssey in the 4-track Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus, one of the two albums he is releasing this year on the Pi Recordings label.

The musicians convened for this session are practically the same as in the album Old Locks and Irregular Verbs, but with two major alterations. Pianist David Bryant, who also participates in the 15-piece new ensemble that shaped Dirt…and more Dirt, replaces Jason Moran, while Luis Perdomo joins for the first time as the third pianist. The remaining elements of The Ensemble Double Up are saxophonists Roman Filiu and Curtis Macdonald, pianist David Virelles, who doubles in harmonium, cellist Christopher Hoffman, tuba wizard Jose Davila, and drummer Craig Weinrib.

The 22-minute “Game Is Up” challenges our ears with refined intricacies that range from structural to rhythmic to the way melody and harmony are cohesively knitted. An introductory piano work later finds the company of flute spellbinds in loose counterpoint with alto sax and the sure-footed tuba strides, which also keeps defining the foundation together with the drums. This ebullient polyphonic passage is interrupted to bring the piano to the forefront, this time exclusively accompanied by keen drumming techniques that involve mallets and brushes. The nimble keyboard activity originates sudden swirls, feathery classical-like movements, and jarred loud sounds counterpointing frantic trills before collective illustrations intercalate with multiple improvisations. These happen over diversified comping environments.

The band has its odd way to swing, an indistinct procedure that is also felt on the closing piece, “Clear and Distinct”. Davila inaugurates it with a deep, raucous tuba dissertation before highly motivic piano stretches, oscillating between tense and harmonious, lead us to an epic finale.

The pieces “Clear and Distinct From the Other”, versions A and B, are distinctly attractive. The first version starts with a ceremonious chamber solemnity and ends in an overflowing commotion, having a sharp alto saxophone voice stimulating the band from the midpoint on. In turn, the B version begins with solo piano but veers to a chamber dance, compressing tuba, cello, and flute lines into the same space. Similar to other tracks, the piano takes over for the last two minutes, creating arresting moments that fit into creative jazz and classical as well as modern composition.

Even staying a few steps behind when compared with the ensemble lushness displayed by his brand new 15-piece orchestra, this Double Up-plus-one session is, nevertheless, another fantastic work by master Threadgill, whose music indefinitely intrigues and enchants.

       Grade  A

       Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Game Is Up ► 03 - Clear and Distinct From the Other B ► 04 - Clear and Distinct