Listening to Henry Threadgill

Listening to the Henry Threadgill Sextet:

I bought an lp copy of Henry’s Novus recording, “You Know the Number” with Henry on bass flute, alto and tenor sax, Rasul Sadik on trumpet, Frank Lacy on trombone, Diedre Murray on cello, Fred Hopkins and Pheeroan Aklaff on basses, and Reggie Nicholson on percussion.

After listening twice all the way through, I re-played the first track on side 1, “Bermuda Blues” and the last track on side 2, “Those who Eat Cookies”.

This is one of my favorite Threadgill recordings with some of my favorite players. Henry’s compositions make the best use of pre-composed and improvised music to be found anywhere, always employing enough variety of rhythmic grooves to make for interesting listening no matter what styles of music you prefer.

Bermuda Blues starts off with the band members showing up one at a time, slowly sauntering in as if to bely the importance of moment, until it all begins to connect and the proceedings take off. While it’s not a typical blues, it’s still all about the blues.

I especially enjoy the texture of two basses and cello. And the Frank Lacy solos are a real treat.

I’m into all the versions of Henry’s groups I’ve heard. While on tour in Italy last October w/ guitarist Eric Hofbauer, we were invited by my friend and photographer Luciano Rossetti to go to Cormons and the “Jazz and Wine” festival. We were staying in the same hotel with Henry and enjoyed a delicious slice of home-made apple pie together before the show. That night, guitarist Liberty Ellman’s playing truly stood out and the interaction among individual group members and the compositions was remarkable. When we went to dinner after the show (I was asked to translate the Italian menu for the band) I asked Liberty how the group moves from one section to another so liberally, playing sections against each other simultaneously and improvising at the same time in different places when suddenly the entire band lands together on the melody to the surprise of even the most attentive listener.

He explained that Henry allows members to choose sections on their own, to stay on one or move forward as they like, but he has melodic cues – like Miles Davis used in his electric bands – to signal a place where everyone knows what’s happening next. Ellman explained that in this band, Henry builds the music from triads and three- note motifs that each improviser interprets by changing the order of the intervals to develop spontaneous phrases that still adhere to the required structure of the tune.

A positive connection from the universe must have influenced me to buy this lp at this moment, as I just finished recording my nine piece band with two guitars, two basses, four horns and drums. Steve Swell plays trombone and Roy Campbell Jr., is on trumpet. “The Variable Density Sound Orchestra” has two recordings on Creative Nation Music. The newest is titled “Sound Particle 47.”


~ by Garrison Fewell on February 27, 2009.

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