Henry Threadgill

When Was That?

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Finally! After almost two decades of CDs we get reissues of saxophonist/composer Henry Threadgill's legendary sextet from the early 1980s. And while it's true that this band put out some hellishly great records for RCA during the middle of that decade, the trio of albums from About Time is arguably its greatest period. This is the band that included cornet wiz Olu Dara, trombonist Craig Harris, longtime cohort Fred Hopkins on bass, piccolo bassist Bryan Smith, and drummers Pheeroan Aklaff and John Betsch! Threadgill's compositions at the time were wonderfully strident exercises in both restraint and open-door improvisation. His melodies were as rooted in R&B traditions -- as evidenced here by the free for all "10 to 1" -- as they were in the new forms put form by Ornette Coleman (check "Melin" and the title track). Threadgill's main thrust was to create a series of modal environments whereby all instrumentalists would engage with one another in the framework of a particular tune, yet play different roles as the ensemble went on its way through the record. Therefore, his own flute playing, say on "Just B," would be organized differently than it was in "10 to 1," as would the particular weight of its solo. Nowhere does this play itself out more than in the rhythmic roles between Betsch and Aklaff, and in the bowed bass atmospherics of Hopkins and Smith. Ultimately, however, this band swung together, no matter how far out the proceedings got. They always returned to Threadgill's magically inherent lyricism and humor in the end, and each and every track here bears that out. This is a nearly mystical album in the life of this band, and, at last, folks who own CD players get a chance to find it out for themselves.

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