Renowned composer and multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill has led a number of critically acclaimed groups since his formative days as a founding member of the AACM, but none have endured as long as Zooid. Formed in 2001, the unit has undergone a few personnel changes over the years, although guitarist Liberty Ellman and tuba player/trombonist Jose Davila have been involved since the ensemble's inception. The current configuration is completed by cellist Christopher Hoffman and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee, making this particular incarnation a quintet.
Threadgill's writing for Zooid involves assigning specific interval blocks to each musician, allowing them to work independently of the group while cooperatively maintaining an overall sense of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic structure. This democratic conception of controlled collective improvisation transcends conventional norms, erasing boundaries between the frontline and rhythm section, as individual members' contributions ebb and flow from background to foreground, blurring the distinction between accompanist and soloist.
In the liner notes, Threadgill describes In for a Penny, In for a Pound as a six-part "epic" to be performed in chamber-listening spaces. Composed of four episodic movements each based around a different instrument, the labyrinthine program is bookended by a brief fanfare and central exordium designed to introduce the set's second half. The titular opener features a beguiling latticework of contrapuntal harmonies, kaleidoscopic textures and modulating polyrhythms, setting the stage for the panoramic sweep of the suite's long-form narratives.
Veering from spare pointillism to rhythmic expressionism, the band members' protean individualism conspires towards a unified goal throughout the proceedings. Together, the leader's earthy abstractions, Ellman's flinty interpolations, Hoffman's sinewy ruminations, Davila's lyrical musings and Kavee's steely accents yield a synergistic whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Conjuring a wide array of moods, Threadgill's use of "epic" to describe Zooid's most ambitious recording to date is entirely appropriate. He incorporates elements of vernacular forms (blues, marches, spirituals, etc.) into these expansive compositions, recalling the AACM's motto, "Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future" in the process. A multifaceted endeavor that reveals new details on each listen, In for a Penny, In for a Pound provides compelling proof of Threadgill's continued relevance as a modern master of creative improvised music.
In For A Penny, In For A Pound (Opening); Ceroepic (For Drums And Percussion); Dosepic (For Cello); Off The Prompt Box (Exordium); Tresepic (For Trombone And Tuba); Unoepic (For Guitar).
Henry Threadgill: alto saxophone, flute, bass flute; Jose Davila: trombone, tuba; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Christopher Hoffman: violoncello; Elliot Humberto Kavee: drums, percussion.