Down Beat (p.71) - 4.5 stars out of 5 -- "There's a surfeit of rich ideas to digest here, but absorbing them is pure pleasure."
JazzTimes (p.62) - "[I]t's Jose Davila who's the most interesting player here. His trombone gives a shape both graceful and contorted to 'To Undertake My Corners Open'..."
JazzTimes (p.34) - Ranked #4 in JazzTimes' "Top 50 CDs of 2009" -- "Demanding yet strangely accessible..."
Personnel: Liberty Ellman (guitar); Henry Threadgill (flute, saxophone, alto saxophone); Jose Davila (trombone, tuba); Stomu Takeishi (bass guitar); Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums).
Audio Mixer: Liberty Ellman.
Recording information: Brooklyn Recording, Brooklyn, NY (11/2008).
Henry Threadgill has, in the framework of abstract music, been a stalwart, spontaneous composer whose personal sound is near impossible to identify, or certainly codify. A listener who enjoys very challenged music would have difficulty in discerning what is made up or written out. The elusive nature of Threadgill's kind of progressive jazz has to confound even those most oriented to his quirky pieces. Where the quintet Zooid lands in this quirky quandary of pegging a signature sound is subject to guesswork, but it definitely has its own brand of concentrated cohesion. Between Threadgill's scattershot flute and alto sax, the sleek tuba or trombone work of Jose Davila, and Liberty Ellman's thorny electric guitar, sparks are always flying about in a collective discourse that is completely unpredictable. Electric bass guitarist Stomu Takieshi and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee are practically secondary in this mix of give-and-take improvisation that needs little rhythmic support or urgency. What seems telepathic or in zig-zag patterns is bursting with colors to the point where those lines are blurred with the virtuosity of these players. Then again, most of the tracks do have a funky underpinning anchored by Takieshi and Kavee that lends a more contemporary, updated feel to the proceedings. Threadgill has always used contradictions as a foundation for his music, and that is something his fans should expect at this juncture. His flute playing is exceptional as featured on the first half of this session, traipsing along in cat-like fashion for the intriguing film noir-shaded "White Wednesday Off the Wall," or the funkier, heavy water experiment "To Undertake My Corners Open." Ellman and Davila take hefty respective solos on these tracks, alleviating Threadgill of any heavy leadership burden, but "Chairmaster" is more a collective jam, as Davila's chunky tuba gets the ball rolling for Ellman's spatial guitar, the in-late flute, and a diffuse melody that cannot be pinned down. With the other three selections featuring Threadgill's atmospheric and wooden alto, you hear more gothic tones, still funky but intangible within Ellman's color palette during "After Some Time." A driving free bop pattern anchors "Sap" at the outset, but bursts in all directions at once like fireworks, while "Mirror Mirror the Verb" staggers short phrases like bursts of dimmed light. A most unique combination of musicians that collectively sounds like no other modern jazz ensemble, Threadgill's Zooid must be heard to be appreciated, especially live, as the studio does not do the band justice. This CD is identified as a first volume, and though clocking in at a brief total time of under 40 minutes, it must mean there's more in store. ~ Michael G. Nastos
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