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Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air (#247)Mosaic Records Limited Edition Box Set
"I never change [groups] for any marketing reason or novelty reason. I only change when I've changed compositionally. When that happens, I start to hear instruments and orchestration, and I have to figure out exactly what's playing in my head. I gotta hear four, five, six instruments at once. What are these colors that I'm hearing? Is that a steelpan, or is that a harmonium? Is that a pipa, or is that an oud? Do I hear one cello or do I hear two cellos in here?"—Henry Threadgil
This set is on backorder and is expected to be available end of January, 2015
Limited Edition: 5,000 copies
8 CDs - $136.00
Henry Threadgill & Air
Talk to Henry Threadgill about the influences in his music, and he is drawn to talk about food. Or patterns of light in the sky. Or a building across the street from a rehearsal studio. Talking about an instrument's role in a composition, he is likely to mention not the rhythm of the drums, but the tuning, and a discussion about harmony becomes a question of how much white and red to add to the painting. He is not trying to be pretentious or profound. He is telling you how his mind works to create the things he hears.
Henry Threadgill was a founding member of the now legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) of Chicago, but before and since he has been a founding member of the Henry Threadgill college of making music that matters. And to Threadgill, all music matters - Charlie Parker and street marching bands and Poulenc and Balinese dance. Now, this first big collection of his music provides an opportunity to hear how those ideas collided, entwined, and rainbowed across an almost uninterrupted span of nearly 20 years.
Its eight CDs are filled with music that was carefully imagined, deeply felt, and wonderfully executed.
The period begins in 1978 with Open Air Suit, hailed for its complexity and for the uncanny way musicians Threadgill (reeds and flutes), Fred Hopkins (bass) and Steve McCall (drums) could instantly communicate through improvisation, The set moves from three albums by Air and one by Threadgill's "X-75" to three on RCA with his seven-man Sextett and ends with his three albums for Columbia that are collages of styles, musical traditions and unlikely instrumentation, achieving accessibility, warmth and humor through his dark and mysterious sonic palette. Along the way it unveils for the first time ever, a completely unheard Arista/Novus X-75 session from 1979 featuring many of the biggest names associated with the avant garde.
Many of those names hailed from Chicago, where the AACM fulfilled a unique and important role.
A Chicago Breeding Ground
Beginning in the mid-1960s, around pianist Muhal Richard Abrams grew a cadre of musicians who defied all the odds to make music they cared about. There was no club or theater to provide the economic incentive or pervert the artistic intent. Frequently, there weren't even audiences whose appreciation or disregard could steer the course. The AACM's non-profit status allowed the musicians the freedom to make music simply for its own sake and for their opportunity to grow as artists. Among the most celebrated at the time (and since) were Anthony Braxton, Abrams, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Leroy Jenkins, and certainly the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Famoudou Don Moye and Malachi Favors). Jack DeJohnette was an early member, as were Chico Freeman, Leo Smith, and Steve McCall. Threadgill had studied along with a handful of them as early as their time together at Wilson Junior College, which thrived with painters, writers, poets and free-thinkers.
In addition to composers and musicians, the organization funded music educators, and created a vital link to the community through its music outreach programs. The result was a primordial soup of experimentation, integrity, and support.
For Threadgill, whose music education had more to do with classical traditions than with jazz per se, it was a perfect breeding ground for the work he would do his entire life. The lively scene contributed to his attitude about making music; that it should always be alive, and nothing should ever be replayed. "You do something you know too well, you're not going to get excited," he told an interviewer. "You'll do what you know."
A Range of Tonal Colors
Threadgill's music through the two decades covered by our release is a distillation of all he has experienced, everything he has heard, and the full extent of his creative engine. Along with McCall and Hopkins, his Air cohorts, the musicians include Jarman, Douglas Ewart (reeds, flutes and piccolo); Rufus Reid (bass); Ted Daniel (trumpet, fluegelhorn); Bill Lowe (bass trombone); Frank Lacy (trombone, French horn, fluegelhorn); Dierdre Murray (cello); Amina Claudine Myers, Aisha Putli (voice). Other musicians join on a wide variety of wind instruments, stringed instruments, and percussion, running the gamut from piccolo guitars to bass flute to accordians, violins, harmonium, tubas and more.
Despite Air's exploration of traditional Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton compositions on what was the LP "Air Lore," the music is truly uncategorizable. But it is also comprehensible. Compositions might weave fragments of melody, but in uncommon sequences that defy what we typically regard as "song." Or instruments that usually lend support might be given the task of carrying the melody. Lines of eminently coherent music and voice exist without any obvious chord structure beneath them. And when it is time to solo, musicians work out, but work in as well, offering up their take on the tune's concept. This is no random mash-up of blowers and bashers, as some in the avant garde can appear to listeners. It is music that is composed, cleverly organized, and emotionally affecting.
This Limited Edition collection includes our exclusive, full-sized booklet with an essay and information about each session by Hank Schteamer and many photographs from the era. Featuring music originally released by Arista, RCA and Columbia, it provides the first opportunity to experience the continuum of Threadgill's development across such a wide time range in a package only Mosaic could amass. But this is Mosaic, which means the set won't be here forever - when we sell out, it will never appear again. Don't miss your chance to own one.
Read More About Henry Threadgill:
Track Listing, Personnel & Recording Dates »
- Audio Quality
- Sample Session Notes
This set covers three different periods in Henry Threadgill's career and each period has an audio hero. The late David Baker recorded most of the Arista Novus albums and his passion for cutting edge jazz matched his superb recording skills perfectly. The RCA Novus recordings of the Sextett were expertly recorded by engineer David Stone. The three varied ensembles on the Columbia albums were meticulously produced by Bill Laswell. In all cases, the rich, multi-layered voicings of Threadgill's compositions are beautifully and vividly captured. Mastering engineer extraordinaire Mark Wilder put the whole set together in 24-bit from the original tapes.
Photo Copyright © Protected
Like our Ahmad Jamal set, many of the wonderful images in the booklet for this have come from the artist's personal archives. Threadgill's stash includes many rare performance photographs of Chicago concerts by Air and X-75. Photographer Anthony Barboza not only provided a wonderful cover shot but also photographs of the Sextett in full force at Sweet Basil and the 31st Street Loft in New York City.
(D) X-75 Volume 1
The cryptically named X-75 didn't last long enough to become one of Threadgill's signature groups, but it did represent an important evolutionary step in his work. Unlike Air, which employed relatively familiar jazz instrumentation, X-75 was a one-of-a-kind ensemble, including four woodwind players, four bassists (pared down from several more in the group's original incarnation) and a vocalist. Working while Air was still active, the outfit—whose self-titled 1979 effort marked Threadgill's recording debut as a nominal bandleader—demonstrated that the composer was already on the hunt for the lusher palette he'd explore in depth in the Sextett.
Right away, "Sir Simpleton" flaunts the ensemble's unusual instrumentation. The piece is extremely involved, with a syncopated lower-register vamp for the basses and bass clarinet and several zigzagging melodic lines. After a tightly composed theme statement, horns and piccolo mingle freely with Amina Claudine Myers's wordless vocal—falling somewhere between scat and opera—over the intricate rhythmic grid. The compositional material is minimal, and it serves as a platform for dense polyphonic improv. No player is featured above any other: In a way, "Sir Simpleton" is a concerto for the full ensemble. Gradually the winds taper off, exposing the interlocking bass lines, and the piece winds to a close. It's a striking statement overall—not jazz, not chamber music but a stimulating hybrid.
On "Celebration," Threadgill deploys the four basses as a kind of string quartet. The piece begins with a slow, sad arco theme for the foursome. Eventually one bass takes the lead and plucks out a rumbling line as another adds embellishment on top. A third counters with sliding chords and ringing harmonics, and the second falls in line with the first. Finally, the fourth bass sounds the original arco theme. Flutes creep in, along with Myers—who interacts with the ensemble on completely equal footing—and the piece takes on the hypnotic quality of "Sir Simpleton": a warm bath of overlapping melodies, swirling, shifting and fading into silence.
"Air Song"—a piece that was part of the Air repertoire both before and after this recording—begins with four flutes and voice plotting a sparse landscape, part placid and part alien, like a field recording of birds and insects. The piece features little thematic material, just an eerie, drawn-out flute melody. The instrumentalists and Myers take great pains to blend in with one another, an effort that culminates in a fluttering, hyperactive chorus where the flutes sound voicelike and Myers sounds like her own species of flute. Again, the piece follows a bell shape, arising out of silence and returning to it, and has a gently flowing, nondirectional feel. Like X-75 Volume 1 as a whole, it's about sensation rather than compositional rigor.
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"Threadgill's collaborations range from the frenetic to the languid. There is so much music here that it is almost intimidating. Thank you Mosaic for continuing to do what no one else does.."
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