Friday, February 6, 2009

Threadgill & Company Plays Threadgill

Creative music is often bypassed by the general audience for many reasons including "too loud", "much too cacophonous", "meandering", "not entertaining", etc. Often, it is just that. Sometimes, it's really fascinating.

Tonight at Wesleyan's Crowell Concert Hall, Henry Threadgill, the Chicago-born flautist-composer-alto saxophonist, led his ensemble Zooid through a set of music that defied expectations. Professor Anthony Braxton spent 20-25 minutes before the show preparing the audience for the music to come, using language that, at times, was highly technical but his main point was that Henry Threadgill's music is unique, with myriad influences mixed in over his long career. He also stated that he has been a fan of Threadgill's music since he (Braxton) was 12 years old - Threadgill is a lofty 16 months older than his good friend.

He's absolutely correct about Threadgill's compositional and performance output . No one plays music that sounds like what Zooid plays tonight (or like his previous bands.) And, like Ornette Coleman and Professor Braxton, Threadgill's style of playing is the same whether he is fronting a trio, sextet, or a chamber ensemble. On this night, his flute sound suffered in the mix(as did the much of the cello playing of Christopher Hoffman) but his tart alto sax attack filled the Crowell Hall. Kudos to UCONN grad/tuba player Jose Davila (such a smooth sound from the elephantine instrument), guitarist Liberty Ellman (who really drives the music) and drummer Elliott Humberto Kavee (it's amazing how soft he can play and still push the proceedings.)

The music started tentatively, especially the first song during which Threadgill only played for, maybe, 30 seconds out of 6 minutes (though Kavee's work at the onset was impressive.) Slowly, the patterns of the music became clearer, the interaction sharper, the dynamic tension and flow of the pieces surer. Although, one did not walk out of the hall humming any of the melodies, there were many moments where the trance-like quality of the music was transcendent.

A good-sized crowd attended the show (perhaps 80-85% capacity - plenty of students in the crowd) and most stayed for the 70 minute performance(to paraphrase the opening of this posting, creative music isn't always "fun.") A good number of musicians and creative music supporters were in attendance, including drummer Pheroan ak Laff (who has been a member of several of Threadgill's ensembles), saxophonist-composer Richard McGhee III, Wesleyan grad and Braxton cohort Taylor Ho Bynum and wife Rachel Bernsen (a fine dancer and teacher), photographer-WWUH radio host Maurice Robertson, Real Arts Ways director Will Wilkins and others.

If you like creative music and want more, multi-reed player Charlie Kohlhase will perform a free concert in The Russell House at 3 p.m. on Sunday February 22. Elsewhere in town, The Buttonwood Tree presents the Collin Wade Quartet on Saturday February 21 and the fine young pianist Landon Knoblock (and trio) on Friday February 27. And don't forget Tuesday Jazz at Public on Main Street, organized by Trevor Davis. All good reasons to get up and out.

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