Henry Threadgill's This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 marks the return of the iconoclastic saxophonist/flautist's Zooid ensemble, his primary public performance vehicle for the past decade. The quintet, although having undergone some significant changes since its previous disc, with bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi and multi-instrumentalist Elliot Humberto Kavee replacing cellist/trombonist Dana Leong and drummer Dafnis Prieto, the group remains a cohesive unit with a unified sound, in no small part due to the continued presence of longtime band members, guitarist Liberty Ellman and tuba player Jose Davila, now doubling on trombone.
Threadgill's compositions are rather more like stories than songs, yarns that develop with a narrative flow that conjures visual imagery to accompany the musica kind of reverse soundtrackwith his frequently cryptic titles contributing to the process. The opening "White Wednesday off the wall" is characteristic. Beginning portentously with flute floating over a droning background, he creates an atmosphere of foreboding mystery that would well serve any film seeking such a mood. Scarcely identifiable sounds abound before a startling segue into the earthy rhythms of "To understand my corners open," where Ellman stretches out in a dialogue with Takeishi over Kavee's shifting drum patterns, prior to Threadgill and Davila taking their turns.
Tuba and bass establish a bottom-heavy setting on "Chairmaster," with Davila articulating a lyrical line, soon to be joined by Threadgill's flute. Background and foreground blur as instruments advance and recede in a natural conversational manner that stubbornly avoids the clichés of popular song structure. The leader's bluesy alto emerges at last on "After some time," a vibrant piece that recalls his Sextett, expanding the sonic palette into another dimension with his immediately identifiable voice. The final two tracks, "Sap" and "Mirror mirror the verb," both open with Kavee's bell-augmented drum kit setting the pace, a swinging up-tempo on the former with alto, tuba and guitar collectively improvising intensely and a darker more ominous atmosphere on the latter, reprising the date's opening ambience.
White Wednesday Off the Wall; To Undertake My Corners Open; Chairmaster; After Some Time; Sap; Mirror Mirror the Verb.
Henry Threadgill: alto saxophone, flute; Liberty Ellman: acoustic guitar; Jose Davila: trombone, tuba; Stomu Takeishi: acoustic bass guitar; Elliot Humberto Kavee: drums.