This Chicago, IL born modernist worked his way through the ranks of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), while eventually forming the highly regarded trio Air, back in the early 70's. Nevertheless, saxophonist/composer Henry Threadgill's prominence sharply increased with the advent of his acoustic/electric Very Very Circus and Make A Move bands. Consequently, the artist burst onto the scene with a highly distinctive compositional style, where he seemingly derived inspiration from Sousa style marches, cabaret, rock, and jazz. Several years ago, this writer read an article which cited Threadgill's fascination with architecture: a notion that seemingly serves as a motivating factor for some of his musical applications. So, with his first recordings in five years, Threadgill's latest concurrent releases are divided into two separate performing factions: the acoustic based sextet ZOOID and the 2/5ths electric outfit Make A Move.
Up Popped The Two Lips represents Threadgill's ZOOID aggregation as the saxophonist's hybrid - strings, woodwinds, tuba ensemble, and oud (performed by Tarik Benbrahim) - features some of the paradigms witnessed on several of his 80's and early 90's recordings. Here, tubaist Jose Davila firms down the bottom end via pumping lower register tones and resonant choruses. On the opener, "Tickled Pink," Threadgill's somewhat whimsical and at times probing flute lines ride atop a loping, odd-metered pulse. Acoustic guitarist Liberty Ellman provides a bit of discordant contrast with nimbly plucked notes as the band injects a quasi parade type motif amid linear developments. Otherwise, Threadgill's raspy toned and often vertically inclined alto sax work is prominently exhibited on this effort, while his compositions move about in geometrically opposed sequences. Moreover, the quintet pursues dirge like progressions and densely complex patterns on the piece titled "Did You See That." Besides, it is a joy to delve into the band's multidirectional evolutionary processes.
Threadgill adheres to similar strategies with his Make A Move unit, again featuring drummer Dafnis Prieto along with the leader's long time musical associates, guitarist Brandon Ross, and bassist Stomu Takeishi. Meanwhile, vibraphonist Bryan Carrott consummates the divergent tonal palate with his rapid flurries and multi-layered voicings. The group explores variegated motifs, led by Threadgill's intensive flute and alto sax performances, whereas Takeishi's animated bass lines and Prieto's intricately developed polyrhythms only enhance the outfit's climactic structures. However, the musicians also roam into free jazz territory during "Where Coconuts Fall." With this piece, Prieto and Takeishi sculpt swarming rhythmic patterns against electric guitarist Brandon Ross' blistering attack. Hence a distinct sense of drama prevails as Threadgill remerges with extended single notes, serving as a buttress for Ross' energetic excursions while the band's feverish pace continues on the tumultuous burner "Shake It Off."
Henry Threadgill's importance to modern jazz cannot be denied, as there are few composers who possess such a distinguishable methodology to music in general. The artist along with a select few is inadvertently signaling in a new golden age of jazz-based fundamentals and thought processes, as this unfolding saga continually ascends to loftier heights.