Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Music for the Mind and Body

The Crowell Concert Series at Wesleyan begins its Spring Semester schedule this Friday evening at 8 p.m. with saxophonist-flautist -composer Henry Threadgill's Zooid.

Threadgill, who turns 65 on Valentine's Day,has been in the forefront of the creative music since since the late 1960s. The Chicago native was one of the original members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a cooperative dedicated to original music that combined traditional approaches to jazz with experimentalism. Musician-conceptualists such as Anthony Braxton (now Professor of Music at Wesleyan), Muhal Richard Abrams and George Lewis worked alongside groups such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago to create new sounds that challenged musicians and audiences alike.

In 1971, Threadgill recruited percussionist Steve McCall and bassist Fred Hopkins for a trio he called Reflections. Several years later, the group changed its name to Air, recorded several Lps for a Japanese label and began to tour extensively. Bolstered by the brilliant rhythm section, Threadgill wrote music that took its influences from traditional African music, from New Orleans, from contemporary classical music, blues and more. After McCall left the trio in 1982, he was replaced by Pheroan ak Laff, now a Private Lessons instructor at Wesleyan.

After moving to New York City in the mid-80s, Threadgill disbanded Air and started several groups, including the 7-member Henry Threadgill Sextett. The group's music had a swagger and a bluster, thanks to the presence of a tuba in the rhythm section. Among the members of the band was ak Laff and, for one Lp and several tours, trombonist and tuba player Bill Lowe (who was on the Wesleyan faculty in the late 1980s and early 90s. The Sextett was followed by Very,Very Circus, a Fellini-esque ensemble that gave way to Make a Move and Zooid. The former quintet has more of an electric sound while the latter tends more towards the acoustic and eclectic.

Zooid features Liberty Ellman (guitar), Dana Leong (cello), Jose Davila (tuba, trombone), Eliot Humberto Kavee (drums, percussion) and an, as-yet unnamed, oud player. The music Threadgill writes for the group is rhythmical, hypnotic, edgy, and often exciting. To call it jazz or "chamber-jazz" is quite limiting; this is creative music at its best.

Professor Braxton will deliver the "Pre-concert Talk" at 7:15 p.m., no doubting attempting to shed light on his long-time friend and occasional collaborator's place in the musical universe. For ticket information, call 685-3355 or go to To get a taste of Zooid, go to

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