Recorded for RCA in 1979, the vanguard trio Air set out to explore its jazz roots. In fact, not only the trio's jazz roots, but everybody's right back to Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton as they were inventing a music that would tear up the streets of New Orleans and later change the world. Interestingly, since most of the music here -- all written by the aforementioned except for one tune -- was composed by pianists and is widely regarded as piano music, Air's exploration entirely struck the piano from the conversation. Reedman Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins, and drummer Steve McCall turned the ragtime music of the fathers inside out and created an exploratory reinsertion of it into the avant-garde of the late '70s. Jelly Roll's "Buddy Bolden's Blues" becomes a blues from another century in the melodic universe of Threadgill, who doesn't give a damn about changes as much as he does stretching the harmonics of the blues idiom into other musics entirely. And in the familiar "King Porter Stomp," also by Morton, Threadgill challenges McCall, who quadruples the time so Henry and Fred can stop up the middle eight with some weird angular intervals where arpeggiated harmony and modal striation become one and the same thing. Finally, on Joplin's "Weeping Willow Rag," the band moves through the changes and then undermines them, turning them inside out as if this were really a party tune from somewhere that willow trees didn't exist or had already disappeared into some toxic twilight. Here are the joyous blues, the raucous blues, the rip 'em up and then send 'em home blues trapped in a color palette so rich and so varied it's difficult to find only one or two textures to fit them inside. Through it all, this remains the album most Air fans love most, precisely because of all the joy and irreverence in the proceedings, which didn't update the old music, but brought it into focus for the revolutionary improvisational template that it is.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek