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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Henry Threadgill Zooid – Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp (Pi Recordings, 2012) ****

By Dan Sorrells 

This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 was something of a revelation for me when it was released in 2009. Here was something many were skeptical jazz could still produce: a legitimately novel music, a new path out, an obscure musical system that was exciting as it was enigmatic. The makings of legend were already present. The vision of an undersung AACM legend.  A quintet that had reportedly spent the better part of a decade internalizing “the System” before releasing any recorded material. Tuba. Here was music uncanny in its familiarity, yet sounding unlike anything you’d ever heard before.

Three years later, the now six-strong Zooid have returned with their third album, Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp. And a slightly new species it is. There’s a newfound space in the music, brief lines of sight that open through the gnarled counterpoint. For those unfamiliar, the band operates using a harmonic system devised by Threadgill. Unlike Coleman’s “harmolodics” (which seems to be more a state of mind or spirit than a bona fide musical construction), Threadgill’s system is a tangible framework, in which musicians are allowed to move according to the interval patterns in chord-like groups of notes called “cells.” The intervallic series dictate everything: the melodic line, voice leading, harmonic interactions, you name it. As long as everyone sticks to the allowable intervals as a piece progresses, the music surges to life. If someone falls out of the language, everything collapses.

Though it could be argued that full-throttle Zooid results in some occasionally clotted music, it’s not until you’re faced with the formless meanderings of “So Pleased, No Clue” or “See the Blackbird Now” that you realize how vital the frenzied counterpoint is to very ideal Zooid has established over three albums. Not that the slow, spacious tunes on Tomorrow Sunny are bad or even uninteresting, only that you come to crave the incredible, propulsive beats of drummer Elliott Humberto Kavee in their absence. Kavee’s abstruse funk is Zooid’s elixir, the torchwood that sets the music off, makes it so ear-catching. Inevitably, it feels like someone is being short-changed when a few musicians are singled out, but in the Zooid machine, it must be said that Kavee and guitarist Liberty Ellman are irreplaceable cogs.

Tomorrow Sunny isn’t quite as compelling as the band’s debut, but it’s still among the best new creative music out there. By the time “Ambient Pressure Thereby” lurches into motion, it’s clear the band still has a lot of life to squeeze out of Threadgill’s model. The addition of cellist Christopher Hoffman and Threadgill’s bass flute are only further evidence that Zooid will mutate to take full advantage of the unfamiliar musical domain Threadgill has sired. This was easily my most anticipated release of 2012, and I’m pleased to say it doesn’t disappoint.

Listen to “Ambient Pressure Thereby”:

© stef


joesh said...

Hi Dan

I don't know if you heard it but there was a very interesting interview with Threadgill on Jason Crane's Jazz program (about a year ago I think). Threadgill explained the whole thing in detail, which of course may throw some new light on the music as you listen to it.