Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air (#247)

Mosaic Records Limited Edition Box Set


Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air (#247)
"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
Limited Edition: 5,000 copies

8 CDs -  $136.00


A First-Ever Opportunity To Experience Two Decades of Exceptional Artistry

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 »

  • Booklet
  • Audio Quality
  • Photography
  • Sample Session Notes
Hank Shteamer's informative essay on the music of Henry Threadgill is rich in knowledge, insight and perception. Shteamer takes us through three major periods in this composer-reedman's extraordinary career between 1978 and 1996, covering five unique ensembles: Air, X-75, Sextett, Very Very Circus and Make A Move.

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
Henry Threadgill
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.


Click here to write a review

Anyone who is disappointed with their Threadgill box set can send it to me and I will give it a good home. I will reimburse shipping costs.
  Well, 4 1/2 at least
If you know and like the gushing life blood of post 60s jazz that was the AACM youll like this; searching and brave and varied. Its hardly like watching paint dry unless said paint is drying on the backside of a beautiful woman whos running in front of you during a Running of the Bulls.
  Good for one listen, after that you may as well watch the paint dry.
AIR LORE + BUSH, RAG AND ALL are all you will need.
  re: Braxton v Threadgill
Threadgill repetitive? Well, maybe youre just looking for -- as you noted -- experimental music. I dont think Henry Threadgill cares if you call his music anything -- jazz, experimental, whatever. So, yes, I think it is just you -- you expected something experimental, whatever that means, and you got something creative and often groovy instead. Lucky you.
  Thanks, Mosaic
After hearing this set, I think Threadgill belongs in the pantheon of great jazz composers, along with Duke, Monk, Ornette, and the rest of the usual suspects. He manages to take the most unusual combinations of instruments and use them in creative and inspiring ways while at the same time creating music that is heartfelt, deep, and dare I say it, often catchy and accessible. This is the best set I've bought in a long time... thanks for doing this one, Mosaic. (I don't really see the comparison to Anthony Braxton. They are quite different musicians- both great in their own ways.)
  Braxton v Threadgill
I purchased both the Braxton and Threadgill sets. I did have a few of Anthony Braxton LPs which are included in the set, but I had nothing of Henry Threadgill, and ordered the set with anticipation. The Braxton set confirmed my opinion that Anthony Braxton's music was stimulating, original and exciting. On the other hand I found That Henry Threagill's music to be repetitious and somewhat tedious, a major disappointment, maybe it's me. But being someone who did hear John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy playing in concert together, I feel that Anthony Braxton is an extension of the music that shaped my appreciation of what experimental music should be.
  Simply Awesome
After I bought the Braxton set, I knew that Treadgill's set would be my next purchase. I just rec'd the box yesterday in time for a road trip across Colorado's Rocky Mountains. 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: revive excellent music from vital composers and performers. Always worth the time and money.
Review: This is destined to be one of the truly classic Mosaic collections that belongs on every jazz lover's shelf! Much like the recent Anthony Braxton collection, this collection rescues many important recordings from the out-of-print dustbins, especially the classic Arista recordings. A standing ovation for Mosaic for this collection!
  Come Carry the Day !!
Its a great collection from Air, Sextett, Very Very Circus, Make A Move, Threadgill is one of the most significant and original composers/improvisers in 25 years, an American maverick genius, thank you
  just received and it's great!
Just received yesterday and one CD listened. Beautiful.I'm happy that the long work of Mr. Threadgill is so well recognized.I first heard Air live more than 30 years ago and the music (and myself) is still young after these years. A great companion to the Braxton box, hope there will be more adventures to follow. Thank you. Loris from Milano
  Finally Air Lore on CD
I was overseas in the Army when Air Lore came out on LP and was praised by the press so much. The PX never stocked this sort of title and by the time I was back stateside, it was out of print. Finally here it is on CD after 30 years of looking for it. This box is going to be my very next purchase. Thanks, Mosaic!
  Other Fantasy Options
I'd take a Ra (Horo?) or a Sharrock (which albums, though?) but my REAL wish would be for another Braxton set; "the complete Ring/Moers albums" (none of which have ever come out on CD) or possibly a complete Milford Graves IPS set (on Select)?
  Just do it
That review above says it all - Mosaic's 'sexy' branching out is a wonderful thing to see. With Duke Ellington 1932-1940 to follow, who could ask for more in terms of variety and dedication to the spirit of jazz? Can't wait to hear this one.
  Work it! Wooork it!
Thank you for this Mosaic; you're becoming more and more sexy in your old age. First Braxton and now Mr. Threadgill. What's next? Sun Ra? Sonny Sharrock?

Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air (#247)
Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air (#247)
Limited Edition: 5,000 copies
8 CDs - $136.00

Customer Reviews:

"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.."
Read More Reviews »

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