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

Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg - Dirt... And More Dirt

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.

       Grade  A+

       Grade A+

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Part I ► 03 - Part III ► 07 - Part I (from More Dirt)

Henry Threadgill - Old Locks and Irregular Verbs

Henry Threadgill: composition; Jason Moran: piano; David Virelles: piano; Roman Filiu: alto saxophone; Curtis MacDonald: alto saxophone; Christopher Hoffman: cello; Jose Davila: tuba; Craig Weinrib: drums.

The veteran and Pulitzer-awarded saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, Henry Threadgill keeps on creating art with a unique voice. This time around, surrounded by a brand new band, he has abdicated to play in order to better sculpt the compositions of this record, a tribute to his late fellow composer, conductor, and longtime friend, Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris.
The addition of two pianists instead of guitar, as well as two altoists, gives a different dimension to Threadgill’s layouts.
Part One” is a 19-minute piece that pretty much follows the leader’s free-form philosophy. After the heartening piano intro, the reeds proceed to a dynamic assault, and the tune leads us to both individual and collective improvisations over the compact and extravagant textures driven by the bass-less rhythm section.
Part Two” falls in the scope of chamber music, echoing with a devout interaction between cello and tuba. Also, Weinrib doesn’t disappoint when called for a drum solo.
The tones and attitude conveyed in “Part Three” are similar to “Part One”, yet here we have the expansions and contractions of Moran and Virelles’ interplay, which infuse extra colors on an already colorful canvas. The wandering solos from the pair of saxophonists and the mellow tones drawn by Hoffman’s cello are something worthy to indulge in.  
After a four-minute piano intro wrapped in dreamlike tones, “Part Four” becomes increasingly dramatic as it moves forward, carrying mournful intonations that seem wanting to say the last goodbye to Morris.
Different sound, same conception, another Threadgill’s respectful signature.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Part One ► 03 – Part Three ► 04 – Part Four