Everybodys Mouth’s A Book
PI Recordings PI01

Up Popped The Two Lips
PI Recordings PI02

Five years after his unsatisfactory major label dalliance ended, composer/saxophonist Henry Threadgill is back with not one, but two new CDs on a brand-new label. Showcasing one quintet and an almost wholly different sextet performing new Threadgill’s pieces, the sessions are exhilarating and comfortable at the same time. That’s because the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)’s most iconoclastic writer is still finding new ways to express himself while staying faithful to the jaunty compositional system he developed as long ago as the early 1990s.

There are some changes however. With Zooid for instance, he has added an oud — played by Tarik Benbrahim — to what now seems to be standard Threadgill instrumentation of acoustic guitar (played by Liberty Ellman), cello (Dana Leong), tuba (Jose Davila), drums (Dafnis Prieto) and his own alto saxophone and flute. Make A Move — which has existed for some time — may have Threadgill and the same drummer on board, but the band is filled out by Bryan Carrott’s vibes or marimba, Brandon Ross’s guitars and Stomu Takeishi’s basses.

Threadgill has been quoted as saying that while his music may be “radically different” most listeners don’t cotton on to that “because the difference in approach doesn’t sound radical”. Without construing this as a put down, you can say that he writes easy listening atonal music. Both these CDs reflect the sum total of the reedman’s musical experience. This includes improvisations with his own combos such as Air and Very, Very Circus, stints playing in marching and army bands while in the military, and sounds created when he was jobbing in show bands, pit bands and even funeral bands.

Well, actually, except for the underpinning of a couple of sorrowful ballads, there’s a lot less of the last type of music than any other — most of the compositions seem pretty upbeat. Plus like Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill and other canny creators of his generation, Threadgill knows that most folks will accept all sorts of deviance in the front line just as long as there’s a steady beat in the background.

Cuban drummer Prieto obviously fits the bill as beat master and the only holdover on both discs. And he justifies this faith with the subtle use of Latin accents from his cowbells and wood blocks. The electric pulse of Takeishi’s basses adds to the drum cushion in Make A Move, while Davila near-unvarying brass bottom linked to Prieto’s percussion pushes does the same for Zooid.

Make A Move also gets its shape from Ross’s guitars. A long-time associate of the saxophonist, his bluesy, rock-inflected, definitely electric guitar runs or racing car quick nylon string strums define each composition on which they’re featured. When his electric machine intertwines with Threadgill’s straightforward, miasmic flute it brings to mind those years Sonny Sharrock powered Herbie Mann’s combo. This impression is reinforced when Carrott’s fleet, dancing mallet work partners with Prieto’s tougher approach. Imagine Milt Jackson recording with Pretty Purdie.

Only in existence since 2000, Zooid appears to take variations of Make A Move’s jaunty themes to a Greek wedding through Benbrahim’s oud and Ellman’s nylon string guitar. Of course it’s not a traditional Hellenic celebration, since the overtones that blast out of Davila’s brass beast are heavy enough to accompany themselves. At times, as on “Calm Down” which couples them with the rat-tat-tat of the snare drum, you figure this must be military nuptials.

On the other hand, can “Do The Needful” be a POMO salute to some of those dance tunes like “Walkin’ The Dog”, “Twine Time” or “Do The Funky Chicken” that Threadgill would have had to accompany in a pit band? Certainly there’s potential for some fancy footwork here as motifs are tossed back and forth from reverberating tuba and the cat gut slides of the cello. The saxist even unveils his fruity, vibrato-laden alto sonority that appears to be one part King Curtis to two parts Ornette Coleman.

The only criticism that can be leveled at both discs is the intermediate length of a couple of slower tunes. Had they been cut off after the initial theme statement or left to gather steam at greater length they would have been more effective.

All and all, though, this is a minor caveat. Think of these as quietly subversive CDs that could as easily impress a newbie who thinks jazz began with Medeski, Martin & Wood as a sophisticate who appreciate Threadgill and the AACM’s entire history.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Everybody: 1. Platinum Inside Straight 2. Don’t Turn Around 3. Biggest Crumb 4. Burnt Til Recognition 5. Where Coconuts Fall 6. Pink Water Pink Airplane 7. Shake It Off 8. What To Do,What To Do

Personnel: Everybody: Henry Threadgill (alto saxophone, flute); Bryan Carrott (vibraphone, marimba); Brandon Ross (electric guitar, acoustic guitar); Stomu Takeishi (electric bass and acoustic bass guitar); Dafnis Prieto (drums)

Track Listing: Popped: 1.Tickled Pink 2. Dark Black 3. Look 4. Around My Goose 5. Calm Down 6. Did You See That 7. Do The Needful

Personnel: Popped: Henry Threadgill (alto saxophone, flute); Liberty Ellman (acoustic guitar); Tarik Benbrahim (oud); Dana Leong (cello); Jose Davila (tuba); Dafnis Prieto (drums)