Review: Henry Threadgill Zooid

Henry Threadgill at the LJF2011 soundcheck
Photo credit: Edu Hawkins

Henry Threadgill Zooid (Queen Elizabeth Hall, Nov 19th, part of LJF2011. Review by Jon Turney. Photo by Edu Hawkins and drawings by Geoff Winston to follow)

A week after Steve Coleman, another Chicago-raised composer and performer who is an all too rare London visitor graced the stage of the QEH.

Henry Threadgill brought the latest in his succession of, er, distinctively named bands, Zooid. And what a band! Together, they operate in his habitual workspace: lots of warm, low to mid-register sounds (cello, tuba or trombone, mellow amplified acoustic guitar), interlocking rhythms, and uncliched motifs, but this crew, all new to me, were all striking players to hear for the first time, and brought his arresting music alive in the best possible way.

Most eye-catching was Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar, who boomed and bounced while dancing barefoot, at least until his strap broke and he was forced to cradle his giant instrument while seated for the rest of the set. He and fine drummer Elliot Kavee opened the proceedings with the simplest of figures, but an immediately gripping timbre (the sound was notably good all evening). They, with Jose Davilla ’s tuba, filled out the lower reaches of the several layers Threadgill loves to build in his music, while cellist Christopher Hoffman and guitarist Christopher Ellman furnished the next level up.
Zooid: Stomu Takeishi (bass) and Christopher Hoffman ('cello)
Queen Elizabeth Hall LJF2011
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved
Threadgill has a wonderful facility for creating music in which highly arranged passages sound improvised. Listen a while and it is apparent that the parts where everyone plays - which can create a sound maelstrom when the band is full on - actually work because the whole piece is as carefully engineered as a swiss watch. The tuba riff complements what the guitar is playing perfectly. The cello meshes with the bass and drums. No-one gets in anyone else’s way. There is irresistible flow.

Threadgill, presiding a little professorially, seemed as happy listening intently to the results as playing himself. There was plenty of solo space for all, with fine moments from all the band members, and an especially fine duo from cello and bass. When Threadgill did play, he laid some lovely lines over the top on his brace of flutes. One of the neat properties of his band’s sound mix is that it sets off the instruments the composer plays beautifully. The flute tops off the sound. The alto sax, when he finally clips it on, blazes through the mix as only an alto can. There were no titles, no intros, no encore. Just an outstanding performance of intriguing, involving music, delivered with total concentration.

At the end, a visibly gratified Threadgill returned to front stage alone to acknowledge the crowd’s roar. Performers will take a bow even when they know the evening did not quite deliver. Not this time. I reckon the smile on Henry’s face was there because he, like us, recognised this evening as a small artistic triumph.


This concert was recorded for BBC Radio 3, and will be transmitted by Jazzon3 on November 28th

7 comments:

  1. Great review ! sorry I couldn't go, will listen next week to the broadcast

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  2. I agree totally - gig of the year for me!

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  3. Amazing gig, completely blew me away - but thought I'd point out that the guitarist's name is Liberty Ellman, not Christopher.

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  4. Hear, hear from me too. And I think it's worth saying explicitly that they swung like mad – a relief after Shepp+Kühn (and Empirical) a couple of nights earlier, whose good reviews have been baffling me. A pity that the hall was half empty, which may limit the chances of a revisit.

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  5. An excellent summing up of the concert. Exactly what made it what it was - from the elaborate 'post-modern' composition to the interplay and clarity of the individual contributions, with Threadgill's role as overseer and selective soloist. His phrasing and tone on alto immediately put me in mind of Ornette's groundwork, yet proved to have a more rootsy range when compared with Ornette onstage a couple of nights later. Being able to make these comparisons is down to the vision behind the programming of this year's London Jazz Festival - getting in key players like Threadgill who don't often make it to these shores. I'm looking forward to the Jazz on 3 broadcast, too.

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  6. apologies to Mr Ellman - namecheck was inaudible, and I replicated an error in the programme... I thought of Ornette's phrasing, too, but Threadgill is more jagged, somehow. Henry more rootsy? Not sure!

    p.s. love the pic

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  7. Spot-on review. This was a total groove-fest that fed the mind as well!

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