American reeds player-composer-improviser Henry Threadgill celebrated last February his 79th birthday but he is still busy working and bursting with creative ideas. He releases now his long-awaited memoir Easily Slip Into Another World, written in collaboration with Brent Hayes Edwards, and a new album The Other One, comprised of a three-movement composition entitled «Of Valence», the musical component of a large multimedia work performed and recorded live at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn, New York in May 2022.
The Other One was written for an unusual instrumentation of a 12-piece ensemble – three saxophones, violin, viola, two cellos, tuba, percussion, piano and two bassoons, with Threadgill as conductor. Threadgill created this work while observing the exodus of people from New York City during the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, he was struck by the left-behind detritus that littered the sidewalks of his East Village neighborhood and what this reveals about human transience, rampant consumerism, and a disposable society. «Of Valence» is dedicated to the percussionist and polymath Milford Graves, who passed away in 2021, and inspired by Graves’ dedicated study of the human heartbeat and its application to music. The performances in Roulette were in memory of Greg Tate, a founding member of the Black Rock Coalition and the leader of Burnt Sugar, who also passed away in 2021.
The recording was taken from the second of dual multimedia performances respectively entitled «One» and «The Other One», which included video, projected paintings and photographs, electronics, a pre-recorded choir made up of his own voices, and Threadgill singing while accompanying himself at the piano and reciting prose that expressed his observations on the effect of technology and its effect on human behavior. Even though The Other One presents only the musical dimension of Threadgill’s ambitious multimedia project, it still emphasizes Threadgill’s idiosyncratic, multi-faceted musical vision and his unique conceptions of timbre.
Thtradgill adapted Graves’ usage of transducers that were hooked up to the drummer Craig Weinrib’s cymbals, enabling the signal from which to be electronically altered, lending the cymbals an other-worldly timbral sheen. The string trio of violinist Sarah Caswell, violist Stephanie Griffin and cellist Mariel Roberts play their parts on the second movement while listening to a playback of their own heartbeats as recorded previously by a cardiologist. Their individual pulses dictate the tempo at which they play, further highlighting their snaking, contrapuntal weave.
Listeners who are familiar with Threadgill’s inclusive and most open musical vision, and especially his work with his band Zooid, will recognize his compositional strategies – unpredictable forms, unusual instrumental combinations creating surprising timbres, percolating rhythms, interwoven melodic strains, and masterful interlacing of composition with improvisation. Threadgill’s The Other One navigates freely between swing, AACM’s school of free jazz, chamber jazz and contemporary music, and obviously, radiates a lyrical spirit but still suggests uplifting musical energy.
Henry Threadgill (cond), Alfredo Colón (as), Noah Becker (as, cl), Peyton Pleninger (ts), Craig Weinrib (perc, elec), Sara Caswell (vio), Stephanie Griffin (viola), Mariel Roberts (c), Christopher Hoffman (c), Jose Davila (tuba), David Virelles (p), Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon), Adam Cordero (bassoon)