Henry Threadgill Up Popped the Two Lips Review

BBC Review

...He's a playa, make no mistake -- incisive, fiery and technically impeccable...

Bill Tilland 2002

For what it's worth, a zooid is "an organic cell capable of spontaneous movement independent of the parent organism." And that's as good an explanation as any of Threadgill's oblique, intricate compositional methodology. Measured against his simultaneous release of Everybodys Mouth's a Book (with the Make a Move quintet), the styles and textures of this session are decidedly more exotic, with instrumentation that includes tuba, oud and cello. The tuba provides foursquare, marching-band/Dixieland resonance, the oud lends tart, percussive bite, and the bowed cello contributes some highbrow ambience. Threadgill used two (!) tubas in an earlier group, Very Very Circus, often combining them with two electric guitars for some delightfully ragged harmolodic funk. Zooid is not necessarily an evolution, but the playing has more discipline and clarity, with Threadgill's prominent use of flute (on three of the seven tracks) creating an aura of chamber jazz sophistication.

Yet even at its most genteel, the music on this CD is no snoozefest. The single ballad features Threadgill's flute and Liberty Ellman's excellent acoustic guitar, but it is much closer to Ravel or Debussy than to generic mood jazz. And overall, Zooid's rhythmic underpinning is quietly insistent, with drums, tuba and oud (and sometimes the pizzicato cello) all pushing the music forward vigorously, while Threadgill and Ellman skitter in and out of the mix.

Threadgill's alto is a special treat in an acoustic setting, where he's not competing with multiple electric guitars and a thick wall of sound. He's a playa, make no mistake -- incisive, fiery and technically impeccable. His solos are seldom more than three minutes long, but he squeezes more into three minutes than most saxophonists could play in ten.

Jose Davila is also a strong presence on tuba. He conducts frequent forays into trombone and even French horn territory, and on one extended solo, throws in some multiphonics for good measure. This is today's jazz, for the hip, thoughtful jazz fan who looks to jazz for more than museum pieces and/or bachelor pad makeout music.

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