paul secor

Henry Threadgill

171 posts in this topic

I'll say something about the music.

I am surprised by Threadgill's patience in sticking with improvisation. There really are difficulties in creating effects in group imrov once you go beyond the forms of classic jazz. Except for the use of what can be almost true polyphony in early jazz, classic jazz has always been a homophonic music (lead voice and continuo). The notes to this new album describe an eight year preparation period in getting the group to deliver a music which I agree is successful (and, I'd say, better than much of HT's previous recorded work). But eight years is a long time to get people to improvise something which could just have been written by a composer. If I set this against Harrison Birtwistle's early Tragoedia and mid-period Secret Theatre, I have to conclude that Birtwistle develops similar tastes to HT further than HT does. Much further, I'd say, and while it might be thought that improv can secure more spontaneous performances than composed music, I'd also say that when I heard Secret Theatre in concert the spontaneity and energy was incredibly high.

Now I know people will line up to criticise this point of view, but there is a serious question here about the expenditure of effort involved in the choice of the musical means. Birtwistle realises aesthetic goals more thoroughly and effectively than Threadgill. His work takes advantage of existing musical machinery (trained musicians, venues etc). Since it is written it is not only preserved and available for study and analysis, but it also goes beyond its occasion and establishes performance tradition. Only 'jazz fans' will turn to HT's music, and in their minds they will hear an expert soloist with a 'band'. I wonder if the effort will be in proportion to the outcome.

By all means, do. So far all I've heard is a somewhat reasonable assertion as to why composers and compositions bring finished and polished product to the market more effectively and efficiently than do improvisers and improvisation, which is good, I guess, if you're looking to go into the business of moving said product, I guess, but I'm at a total loss to see what that has at all to do with the actual making and development of music, including the hows and whys of why somebody would view their path as rewarding enough to doggedly continue on it in spite of it ultimately wasting time in producing an inferior and inefficient product, time that could have been better spent...doing, what, exactly....focusing on defrictionizing the procedural dynamic between deliverables, maybe?

Or getting on PBS! YES!

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I'll say something about the music.

I am surprised by Threadgill's patience in sticking with improvisation. There really are difficulties in creating effects in group imrov once you go beyond the forms of classic jazz. Except for the use of what can be almost true polyphony in early jazz, classic jazz has always been a homophonic music (lead voice and continuo). The notes to this new album describe an eight year preparation period in getting the group to deliver a music which I agree is successful (and, I'd say, better than much of HT's previous recorded work). But eight years is a long time to get people to improvise something which could just have been written by a composer. If I set this against Harrison Birtwistle's early Tragoedia and mid-period Secret Theatre, I have to conclude that Birtwistle develops similar tastes to HT further than HT does. Much further, I'd say, and while it might be thought that improv can secure more spontaneous performances than composed music, I'd also say that when I heard Secret Theatre in concert the spontaneity and energy was incredibly high.

Now I know people will line up to criticise this point of view, but there is a serious question here about the expenditure of effort involved in the choice of the musical means. Birtwistle realises aesthetic goals more thoroughly and effectively than Threadgill. His work takes advantage of existing musical machinery (trained musicians, venues etc). Since it is written it is not only preserved and available for study and analysis, but it also goes beyond its occasion and establishes performance tradition. Only 'jazz fans' will turn to HT's music, and in their minds they will hear an expert soloist with a 'band'. I wonder if the effort will be in proportion to the outcome.

Except that sometimes improvisation takes music to the level of the magical in a way that is difficult to attain through composition alone.

Don't ask me to explain or defend this - I can't. It's magical.

And this point of view is from a person who is decidedly non-mystical in most areas of his life.

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Only 8 years? Threadgills' been doing this much longer than that, and IMO that's how long it took him to get to where he is.

If I can't listen to something without having to compare it with something else, I figure I'm not in the mood to really listen to it. All those old arguments about composed music having some kind of innate superiority are lost on me. I love the story in 4 Lives in Bebop about CT reading some scores and being very impressed, but not enjoying the music when it was actually played in concert. Refresh my memory, was it Boulez? Well, it's good for musicians to be competitive even if there's no valid way to determine who 'won'.

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Got the new disc in the mail today, gave it a spin and I like it a lot. It's of a piece with Vol1, if you like Vol1 you'll probably enjoy this one. One curious aspect is that the music was recorded in 2008, so I think we need a new recording with what he's up to now(I can only hope).

I will see him at Roulette in November.

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Saw the Threadgill show at Herbst last night. Sadly underattended, but the audience that was there showed up to listen. I sure as hell hope that this doesn't bode poorly for booking more adventurous acts at SF Jazz, the latter of which is notorious around here for the general conservatism of its lineups and tendency to avoid local acts. Moving tickets is important, yes, but I'm glad the institution took some chances this year and brought Threadgill to an audience that has been STARVED for star power of the so-called "free jazz" variety.

It was a fine concert. Highlights:

(1) I'll second Philly's statements in that we need a current recording of this group, if only because the new cello player is killing it. And not a weak link in the band.

(2) They're an even stronger performing unit live than on recording, although the band was very, very poorly served by the hall. The mic'ing helped, but didn't fix things. The sound was overwhelmingly bass-y and tended to swallow up the higher frequencies of the less trebly instruments (i.e., flute, bass).

(3) The first of only a handful of alto pieces was arguably the strongest performance of the night and maybe one of single most amazing alto performances I've seen in my life. The whole band did a fine job, but Threadgill was amazing on that one. I recall the Penguin guide discussing Miles's "knife fighter" restraint, and Threadgill had that in spades here. I also remember discussion about Miles's ability to "bring the band" to himself, which is clearly a skill that Threadgill has mastered. His playing on alto is so detailed, so dynamic (both in terms of volume and conceptual flow)... the closest thing I've heard to Dolphy's solo on "Mendacity"--something brutal, tough, and true, kind of lugubrious but fluid and unstoppable. Like mud (in a good way). Some Sonny Criss in there, Benny Carter, even a bit of Ayler. Just ecstatically powerful.

(4) Kavee. I'm not sure how much direction Threadgill gives the band in terms of groove or rhythmic approach--and I do think that it is a strength of this ensemble precisely how countable/rhythmically lucid it all is, and how harmonically clear it can be, in spite of all the detail--but Kavee is kind of the living dictate to "groove" in this band. The way he displaces accents, turns the beat all around, and propels with stasis is very similar to the way a skilled laptop producer can turn a regular beat into something really malleable and alive. The difference is that he's doing it live and his sound is the thing of a jazz drummer.

Regarding the debate above... this is improvised music in nature, so I feel like whether or not you could make the same sounds by composing is kind of a non-issue. Zooid is very science-y in quality and unfinished in a way that none of Threadgill's bands seem to have been in the past. Whatever the case, part of the crux of this music seems to be how and that it can happen in this kind of improvised situation. The band sounds as large as an orchestra with as much timbral detail as a chamber ensemble--and can push with the dynamism of a jazz band--moving between extremes with something that sounds really spontaneous. You can't write that feeling out--I do hesitate to call it magic, but it's "jazz." These improbable, spontaneous unison downbeats, crescendos/decrescendos, transformations in time feel, sound completely technically right but improvised and alive in a way that relates much more closely to, say, the Jazz Messengers than anything else. (Also, you can't have the "rhythm section" working like this and keep it closer to the realm of composition. It just won't work. It would take ages to write it out in just the right way, and you'd have to get a jazz drummer, or at least a classical percussionist with extensive jazz experience, to play it right. That's a lot of ifs.)

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Also, the more I think about it, the more I feel like the notion that there's any sort of interchangeability between "serious jazz" and contemporary composition is totally flawed. Which doesn't mean that there haven't been examples of jazz/free improv-y improvisation in contemporary composition or vice-versa, but, rather, in most prominent cases, this has been an instance of exchange/interaction rather than a matter of just swapping out procedures (e.g., Ornette's chamber/orchestral excursions, Braxton writing for orchestras--largely composed concerti with improvising soloists who have firm jazz roots--exceptions include the work of Roscoe Mitchell and Barry Guy, who do seem to attract the rare contingent of musicians who might identify in equal parts with concert music and improv--but never, really, concert music and jazz--and then, on the other end of the spectrum, stuff by Alvin Curran, Gunther Schuller or Terry Riley, which uses "jazz" soloists as jazz musicians rather than orchestral adjuncts--or, in Riley's case, improvisation in a way that harkens to non-Western routes in a way that doesn't really synthesize with any sort of Western concert tradition... and then things like Treatise or Cage's more open-ended music, which often employ traditional orchestral musicians but are at the same time totally devoid of things like melodic propulsion or melodic development in the fashion of jazz or a lot of free improv...)

The point being that a lot of times the procedure is the music. If Threadgill wanted this stuff read down, he could do what Roscoe does and just notate all the music (like some of the version of "Nonaah")--but this changes the basic premises of the music. You could write out everything Liberty Ellman played, but you'd still have his tone, articulation, attack, etc. (which are, for any number of reasons, jazz-dervied, descended, or informed, whatever...)--you expect a degree of self-expression and personal initiative, often suppressed in contemporary performance praxis, when you use that guy. By that token, if you're going to go ahead and assemble a group of musicians with extensive backgrounds in improvisation, why don't you use that? I mean--and this is a huge issue--one of the problems with the compositional dictate is that it (usually) isn't a collaborative process; if you make music in this way, you don't give it to a group of people who are improvising most of the week, right?

Maybe Threadgill doesn't compose his music because he thinks it wouldn't sound right that way? And it is a sound thing, since I'm sure a lot of improvisers would agree that spontaneous decision making, self-expression, etc. do filter into sound (and, hence, the music becomes these factors... remove these factors and it just isn't there anymore).

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Wow, well said in both posts. I'm really looking forward to seeing Threadgill next month! Mosaic arrived today, but I won't crack it open until later in the week. For now I'm listening to some live Air!!!

Edited by PHILLYQ

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I can't add anything to ep1str0phy's review except that Henry seemed genuinely moved by the enthusiastic response from the crowd at the end of the show. They wanted an encore, but he came out by himself and acknowledged the rapturous applause thanking everyone profusely.

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I'm excited for the Vol. 2 disc on Pi...have always been a Threadgill fan but to be honest I stopped with his new recordings somewhere in the 90s. Not sure why. I picked up "Vol. 1" recently and was blown away. :tup

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(....) the closest thing I've heard to Dolphy's solo on "Mendacity"--something brutal, tough, and true, kind of lugubrious but fluid and unstoppable.

Now I follow you!

Verty finely expressed, congrats and thank you for the inspiring insight.

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While I was reading the NYT mini-review of the Threadgill box, I noticed that one of the compositions the reviewer mentions is "Luap Nosebor". That's Paul Robeson spelled backwards. Having never heard the piece, I have no idea of the significance.

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short interview with HT conducted by Ethan Iverson here

http://www.bbc.co.uk...0vhxp2#synopsis

hit the Robert Glasper link and fwd to about 1.20.00 to find HT

up for four more days

Thanks for posting. Look forward to the full length interview.

Yes, so do i but can't see them broadcasting the full 3 hours, great as that would be

I'll post again if I spot any of the rest is broadcast

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kinda weird to see him do his own stuff in a repertory way ... but I'd definitely be there if it was in my neck of the woods!

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What a treat that will be. Good to see something like this being programmed. Shows an understanding of the span of creative genius in his career

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kinda weird to see him do his own stuff in a repertory way ... but I'd definitely be there if it was in my neck of the woods!

It is actually being programmed by Jason Moran and I do not think Threadgill is scheduled to perform.

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Very Very Threadgill. A 2 day festival in NYC later this month.

http://www.harlemstage.org/events/

Heavens, that's going to be quite a festival, and all by various Threadgill bands. it would be great to go to NYC that weekend.

The improvised polyphony that Threadgill's been aiming for in the last couple decades sounds almost harmolodic to me. Maybe it's a stretch of the partly composed polyphony of his Sextett and earlier bands.

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I've been listening to X-75 vols 1 & 2 for the first time. Excellent stuff, and brings out dimensions of his music that were not fully apparent in Air. For those of you who heard this when it came out (i.e., before Henry expanded on these concepts during the 80s and 90s), was it a major ear-opening?

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The Pi site is showing that a new Zooid album, 'In For a Penny, In For a Pound' is coming out in May. Ridiculously good news.

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Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Good news indeed!

Though, if that's the final curtain for that band, it's with a laughing and a crying eye - does anyone actually know if Zooid has been ended?

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