Henry Threadgill, seer beyond ‘jazz’

In my City Arts column: a new album and Roulette concert with commissioned work from a worldly-wise 65 yr-old NYC/East Village-based composer-bandleader who keeps looking at music — Varese’s and Wagner’s, Scott Joplin’s and Ornette Coleman’s — to find something new. I call Henry Threadgill a prophet in the wilderness, urgently trying to shake us from complacency. At De Roberti’s classic Italian pastry shop for coffee yesterday, Threadgill claimed he’s just helping American music born in the urban late 20th century to develop its full potential, and it’s got a long ways to go.

This Brings Us To, vol. 1, is Threadgill’s first release in eight years, featuring slightly different collaborators playing tuba, electric guitar, bass and drums than the group he founded in the early 00s as Zooid (after a cell like a spermatozoon that moves independently through an organism). During an interview I held with him towards an upcoming Down Beat article, Henry talked specifics about the new language it had taken him a year to teach his ace musicians, and the imperative that what’s called “jazz” not be confined to its baby steps, believing the art form has an long and open-ended future. 

For details from that discussion you’ll have to wait. My DB piece will come out early in 2010, around the same time the premiere performance of Threadgill’s 45-minute “All The Way Light Touch” with featured cellist Christopher Hoffman joining Zooid will be aired on Roulette TV (every Thursday night on Manhattan Cable). This shouldn’t keep you from hearing some of the best of Threadgill sooner than that — I recommend the stripped down Air Time (by the brilliant trio from which he emerged, first released in 1978) and ultra-internationalist Carry The Day (with his two-gtr, two-tuba, french horn + drums Very Very Circus plus singers, violin, accordion, pipa. . .). Or go directly to the new one (cheap as a download). Do check out my column, too, for what it might mean when we can’t figure out what we’re hearing. 

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