Friday, February 15, 2019

If Air There Were One: Henry Threadgill 75

Perhaps the central Black History Month post for 2019 takes the shape of a 75th birthday bash for one of my all-time favorites.
He's been at it on the bleeding edge of Jazz since he first burst upon the scene in the mid 1970s with one of the truly forward-looking ensembles of ever.
One of the most eclectic musicians in all history, his stuff can sound like 16th Century Japanese Court music, punk and ragtime... all in the same 16 bars.
If one of the primary functions of a bandleader is to put his players into a position where they can be challenged, yet find it easy to excel, he might be the current reigning champion.
So many different bands too; even excluding Air, with whom he first came to prominence.
I hung out with him and one of those groups prior to a show in Oakland once about 20 years ago. I had an LP copy of Air Time for him to sign, and his bandmates kept teasing him that he looked like Gil Scott-Heron on the cover.
In the 1981 interview appended to today's share fare, he describes what he's after: to affect transformation in his audience through seeing and hearing it unfold in front of them. 
That's an accurate statement, at least for me, because IMO no composer of my lifetime has provided more of a level of transformation of so many disparate influences into something so cohesive and natural as has Henry Threadgill, born this day in 1944.
I've spent the last week assembling three short broadcasts of one of his greatest groups into something semi-cohesive, and working on the audio to get them into some sort of similar sonic harmony.
These go back to the beginning of his first band outside of Air, his Sextett. Yes, there are seven people in it... the extra T is for Thread.
Henry Threadgill Sextett
Manhattan + Amsterdam
1981-85

01 Ben Sidran intro
02 Fanfare and Ceremony
03 N+OOT
04 Excerpts
05 Number 12/A Piece of Software
06 Subject to Change
07 Henry Threadgill interview with Ed Scarvallone

Total time: 1:19:53

Tracks 01-02: Kool Jazz Festival    Avery Fisher Hall, NYC 6.29.1982
Henry Threadgill - saxophones
Olu Dara - cornet
Craig Harris - trombone
Fred Hopkins - bass
Brian Smith - bass
John Betsch - drums
Pheeroan AkLaff - drums
sounds like a master or 1st gen cassette of the original "Jazz Alive" broadcast, summer 1982

Tracks 03-04, 07: New York Shakespeare Festival   Public Theater, NYC November 1981
Henry Threadgill - reeds & woodwinds 
Craig Harris - trombone 
Olu Dara - cornet 
John Betsch - drums
Fred Hopkins - bass
Brian Smith - soprano bass 
Thurman Barker - drums & percussion
sounds like a master cassette of the original WBGO-FM broadcast

Tracks 05-06: Amsterdam International Jazz Festival   Meervaart, Amsterdam NL 9.27.1985
Henry Threadgill - alto and tenor saxophones, flute, clarinet
Rasul Siddik - trumpet 
Ray Anderson - trombone
Diedre Murray - cello 
Fred Hopkins - bass
Reggie Nicholson - drums 
Thurman Barker - drums, marimba
sounds like a master cassette of the original VARA broadcast from 1985

all three segments slightly remastered to achieve more sonic consistency between them by EN, February 2019
478 MB FLAC here
Thus concludes my little flurry of three in a row. I will be back next week with even more flavorful jams.
Right now, however, you'd be all out of Air if you don't breathe in this little CD-length concoction I've assembled in tribute to Henry Threadgill... a birthday boy who's been astonishing all of our ears for decades and is turning the milestone 75 today.--J.