Henry Threadgill / Henry Threadgill Zooid


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Poof Review

by Thom Jurek

Poof marks both the 20th anniversary of Henry Threadgill's Zooid (his longest-running band) and the first time they've issued a recording since 2015's In for a Penny, In for a Pound. The personnel remain guitarist Liberty Ellman, tubist/trombonist Jose Davila, cellist Christopher Hoffman, and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee. Each contributes an abundance of rhythmic sophistication, innovative lyricism, and canny improvisational chops to the party. Threadgill composed each of these five pieces as mini-concertos for different combinations of instruments, although the group's canny improv interplay is constant.

Opener "Come and Go" commences with rumbling snare, whispering cymbals, and plucked guitar, framing the middle of a cello solo. Hoffman actually sets out the tune's path of intervallic inquiry. First Davila's tuba, then Threadgill's alto, and finally Ellman's electric guitar begin circling him atop Kavee's angular, dancing drumkit. Only then does Hoffman begin a solo that morphs into an extended dialogue with tuba and guitar. The title tune commences with a dialogue between guitar, tuba, trombone, and cello. Drums signify each pass of the melody. Threadgill's raw-toned alto lays out a sweet, reflective, bluesy melody. Each player solos beautifully after him while retaining the languid tempo. "Beneath the Bottom" offers a swinging, post-bop rhythm before the trombone emerges in an unaccompanied solo. Threadgill's flutes join Ellman's sparse single-string markers as Kavee shimmers with mallets across his cymbals. The trombone re-emerges with a mute, and the band follows it down a rabbit hole of knotty classical harmonies before returning to swing with deep blues grooves. While "Happenstance" spends the majority of its eight minutes exploring minimal tonal, textural, and timbral conversations, there are some explosive moments for Kavee, who delivers a killer three-minute solo initiating the band's stop-and-start pulse-like dialogue. Closer "Now and Then" features the lively ensemble using moderate dynamics and the detail and transparency of a chamber group. Twinned lyric lines by Ellman and Davila provide a roadmap as Hoffman's cello and Kavee's rim shots punctuate and expand the groove. Threadgill's alto doesn't enter until the final minute to provide a lively dialogue with guitar and tuba resulting in a surprising multiphonic conclusion.

As is typical of Zooid's music, Threadgill allows humor, instinct, and innovation room to speak in his compositions. It's obvious from the group's adventurous interaction, he understands exactly how to write for each of its players as well as to their strengths as an ensemble. Poof is a fine snapshot of Zooid at this point in its history, and of Threadgill, too, whose twin senses of creative ambition and aesthetic taste continue to question the foundations of harmony, rhythm, space, and tonality in the 2st century.

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