Henry Threadgill

X-75, Vol. 1

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After ten years as a member of the innovative trio Air, Henry Threadgill's first album as a leader immediately plunged into experimental waters. He utilized a nonet the likes of which had certainly never been heard before and probably not since: four reed players, four bassists, and a vocalist. The bass quartet was made up of participants in Brian Smith's Bass Violin Choir, and here they provide not only most of the rhythmic impetus but also carry a good deal of the melodic weight, as Threadgill's massive talent for mid-size band arrangements is immediately apparent. Their opening few minutes on "Celebration" presents a marvelous array of bowed, hymn-like tones as well as deeply grooving pizzicato lines. The songs are less solo vehicles than complete compositions, already prefiguring several of the directions the leader would take with his subsequent ensembles. Only "Air Song," an ethereal piece scored for four flutes and voice, meanders a bit and fails to really catch hold, though even then it presents some wonderful textures and colors. The closer, "Fe Fi Fo Fum," is the most traditionally jazzy of the pieces, allowing for something close to a theme-solos-theme format, Threadgill's alto given a moment to shine in all its acerbic glory. As of 2002, X-75, Vol. 1 was unreleased on disc and, even more disappointingly, there was never a "Vol. 2." But Threadgill fans looking for a link between Air and his Sextett owe it to themselves to search this one out.

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