The Upshot: As fine an example of the alto saxophonist/flautist/composer’s art as he’s ever recorded.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
It’s not quite accurate to say the prolific, Pulitzer Prize-winning Henry Threadgill has been at the forefront of jazz since the 1970s and his days leading Air (the jazz trio, not the French soundscapers). More factual to say that the alto saxophonist/flautist/composer has simply always been traveling his own musical roads, pilfering bits of postbop, free jazz, fusion, Third Stream, funk, classical and anything else that strikes his fancy, putting it all together and filtering it all through his distinctive vision.
Dirt…and More Dirt, the first album from his latest oddly-monikered collection of players, was inspired by Walter de Maria’s Earth Room exhibition and Stephen De Staebler’s sculptures, which might explain why lines and notes swoop up and down like strokes of a brush on canvas. Brass figures heavily here, with double trumpets and trombones and a tuba providing many of the main riffs, while guitarist Liberty Ellman (a mainstay of Threadgill’s ensembles for the past several years), dueling pianists David Virelles and David Bryant, cellist Christopher Hoffman and three altoists (including Threadgill himself) swirl around the metal horn line. Anchored by bassist Thomas Morgan, double drummers keep time just enough to prevent the music from derailing like a toy train hitting a curve too fast.
Threadgill music often sounds less like melody than multiple harmonies clashing at once, letting the sparks substitute for easy accessibility, and that’s certainly the case here. With pieces ranging anywhere from eight minutes to less than sixty seconds, the group gets just enough time to execute Threadgill’s complex charts and improvise. The longer pieces work the best, letting the musicians stretch out when given the chance – check “Part I” of the “And More Dirt” half, as Hoffman, Ellman and the pianists in particular distinguish themselves with some stellar solos.
It can often be challenging to figure out what Threadgill is doing – to the uninitiated, it may sound like there’s a lot of dicking around going on. But there’s definitely a method to Threadgill’s alleged madness, and once you’ve locked into it, his unique sense of music becomes mesmerizing. Dirt…and More Dirt is as fine an example of Threadgill’s art as he’s ever recorded.
DOWNLOAD: “And More Dirt: Part 1,” “Dirt: Part IV,” “Dirt: Part 1”