Recent listening, current

Saturday, February 16, 2013

36. Henry Threadgill Sextett / Rag, Bush and All (1989)

Mr. Threadgill turns his attention to the possibilities of composing for a jazz sextet, laying aside his penchant for world percussion and other unconventional orchestration. There aren't any frame drums and you won't find an oud, but between Threadgill's bass flute, the bass trombone (Bill Lowe's sole obligation), string bass, cello, and flugelhorn, the instrumental colors are focused in the lower ranges. Add two drummers and shake, and the recipe really works -- bright splashes from Threadgill's alto and Ted Daniels' cornet create a high flavor that is joined by Diedre Murry, whose free explorations on the cello wouldn't sound out of place with Henry Cow. Fred Hopkins, no stranger to interplay with Murry or Threadgill, was always a creative improviser, and uses the full range of the instrument, playing so percussively that you'd think he was a percussionist himself. Threadgill's abilities as composer and arranger are ever apparent, playfully alternating between snatches of melody and bumpy sections of turbulent rhythmic counterpoint. When the soloists open up in later sections of "The Devil is on the Loose and Dancin' with a Monkey," maybe it's the horn and twin drummers, but the music feels a smidge like that of the second Miles Davis Quintet. And in the sections surrounding Threadgill's chorus in "Sweet Holy Rag," the drums and winds play slightly out of phase and recall effect of the opening track on Davis' Nefertiti, that of an unsettling and self-propelled whole that creeps along like a caterpillar and demands the ear's attention. During collective improvisations, the musicians have their ears wide open, and the product is a busy and tantalizing melee of interwoven phrases and meters that step above one person simply jumping into line behind the next.  "Gift" is the shortest piece on the record, a beautifully dirge-like spell of bowed strings, chimes, and arranged winds that is overshadowed by the 12-minute tempests on either side of it. Yet again I listen to an album like this one with such interesting compositions and wish it was available to new generations of jazz composers and musicians, but shake my head in awe of the fact that it has lapsed out of print. There are numerous groups in modern jazz that could adapt these tunes nicely.


  1. There needs to be a petition get this masterpiece reissued, remastered and annotated. Godamn record companies get your act together!

    1. I'm with you, Sen. Legit downloads and limited edition CD reissues (like those of Verve) have done well to help us with the ocean of o.o.p. jazz recordings, but it seems like a few choice records inevitably fall through the cracks. If you can find it without losing your shirt, I think it's worthwhile to own. On the other hand, I can't imagine it will be out of print forever. It's too good!