fri 25/09/2020

Henry Threadgill, Queen Elizabeth Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Henry Threadgill, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Henry Threadgill, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Gifted avant-garde saxophonist doesn't quite connect

Henry Threadgill: content to act as ringmaster

It’s nine days into the 10-day London Jazz Festival, and highlights so far include the double bill of saxophonists Steve Williamson and Steve Coleman, and the UK’s own Empirical supporting veterans Archie Shepp and Joachim Kuhn (the former a mellowed African-American firebrand, the latter a German pianist with all the wild intensity of Klaus Kinski in a Beethoven biopic).

It’s nine days into the 10-day London Jazz Festival, and highlights so far include the double bill of saxophonists Steve Williamson and Steve Coleman, and the UK’s own Empirical supporting veterans Archie Shepp and Joachim Kuhn (the former a mellowed African-American firebrand, the latter a German pianist with all the wild intensity of Klaus Kinski in a Beethoven biopic). Contemporary crooner Gregory Porter, who played the "Jazz on 3" launch at Ronnie Scott’s, didn't do much for me, but it seems already to have been written that he is THE FUTURE OF JAZZ and it might just come to pass.

The room wasn’t full for Henry Threadgill – maybe everyone was next door at the Portico Quartet – but for fans of more leftfield music, the multi-instrumentalist’s rare London appearance had been much anticipated. The jazz avant-garde is a world dominated by improvisers; Threadgill, who was associated with Chicago’s pioneering AACM in the 1960s and went on to lead groups including Air, has established himself as one of its few truly gifted composers.

Only when he switched to alto sax did the music acquire quite the grit it neededSad to report, however, the show was a mild anti-climax. Clad in green and brown and sporting a loose waistcoat, all from Barbour’s lesser-known Robin of Loxley range, Threadgill seemed largely content to act as ringmaster. He didn’t play at all during the opening minutes, and when he did join in he favoured feathery flute over the more familiar alto saxophone. This left the focus on his fellow musicians - a typically imaginative line-up of acoustic guitar, acoustic bass guitar, tuba/trombone, cello and drums - and on the material itself. Much could often have passed for free improvisation, although a compositional hand was evident in the intricately tessellated rhythms and sudden, emphatic endings.

It was clever stuff, certainly, but - for all the bottom-end wallop when tuba joined the thunder and thump of the acoustic bass guitar - also rather cold. This is an accusation that has been levelled at fellow Chicagoan Anthony Braxton, but Threadgill’s peculiar talent has been to combine contemporary classical and free-jazz influences with rambunctious ragtime and marches: "If you can’t move to Threadgill," young Oxford pianist Alexander Hawkins told me earlier this year, "you may be clinically dead." Such a counterweight was lacking for much of the show last night (don't worry, I've checked my pulse). Only when he switched to alto sax did the music acquire quite the grit it needed, but then suddenly it was all over without an encore.

Still, there's one more night of the LJF still to go: a tough call between free-jazz innovator Ornette Coleman and Hermeto Pascoal, a Brazilian musician described by Miles Davis, no less, as one of the most important musicians on the planet.

Threadgill seemed largely content to act as ringmaster. He didn’t play at all during the opening minutes

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Comments

Sound quality was shocking - bass overwhelming, drums distant, guitar/cello interaction indistinct. Should have brought their own sound engineer.

Andrew Hawkins? You mean Alexander Hawkins? The polyrhythms tended to clutter for this pair of ears. Rhythms based on rock back beats are not conducive to high-quality improvisation anyway. But more interesting than that self-indulgent, prolix pianist on before. Why are such bores allowed to perform solo?

Sorry - you're quite right. Will correct to Alexander. Blame late-night reviewing. And I'm with you on Escreet.

Sad to see that this music review should begin with what Henry Threadgill wore - wonder what that has to do with anything. Happier if he dressed like Wynton Marsalis?? Its unfortunate that the highly sophisticated writing of Threadgill went over Marcus O'Dair. When geniuses like Threadgill set a new standard and an evolved system of music, history has shown over and over even in other art forms--paintings for instance, that it takes sometimes years and years for the public to understand and catch on to a new idea that is perhaps revolutionary. Having attended the performance and having thought it was the gig of the year for me, I am disappointed to read this review. No doubt the sound could have been better, but it was refreshing to hear that the man is not comfortable to rest on musical habits and rhythmic patterns. What was fascinating was the way he wrote the rhythms of each piece - nothing you could necessarily tap to or figure out but written out with such precision, imagination and depth I was wiped out. This is today the most evolved form of western music period! And the music moved me.

I totally agree. I saw Threadgill's Zooid in Italy past winter in a fine acoustic environment and the music performed blowed me away. This IS some of the most rigorous and evolved form of music today. I am listening Threadgill's music of the last 15years, I think I can testimony this. He never rests, always and logically searching for new sounds and timbres without losing a jazz taste for rhythm, for cynetic and melodic patterns. Not easy nor immediate to educate your ears to it, though.

Don't understand how you can say the music was cold and lacked a strong pulse. The music varied obviously but I was grooving away for a good chunk of it. I agree with the comment on the sound. I was hard put to pick out the cello and guitar in the ensemble parts without watching what they were doing though it did improve somewhat.

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