Thursday, October 30, 2014

Henry Threadgill: You Know the Number

This 1986 release on RCA's Novus imprint displays some impressive composing by the great Henry Threadgill, excellent playing by his diverse sextet, and fine production making for a beautifully-sounding record.

"Bermuda Blues" features great bass and cello work by Fred Hopkins and Deidre Murray, respectively, and a nice blend of brass with the leader, trumpeter Rasul Sadik and trombonist Frank Lacy performing with a highly-developed sense of interplay as well as solid soloing.

Hopkins starts off with a contemplative bass solo on "Silver and Gold Baby, Silver and Gold," before the others join in on this complex ballad.  Also notable throughout the album is how the percussion is recorded with Pheeroan Aklaff on the left channel and Reggie Nicholson on the right.  On this tune, Threadgill's piercing, keening solo stands out--very much in his style of playing and always affecting.

The opening of "Theme for Thomas Cole" has that peculiar attribute of Threadgill's arrangement of instrumentation, with the trombone, muted trumpet and alto marking out a complex and unusual theme statement, before Lacy solos with a cymbal and bass accompaniment.  Then, the ensemble comes back in with a striking way of various brass soloing.

"Good Times" is as catchy and accessible a tune as can be found in Threadgill's discography, a truly uplifting tune with all of that remarkable harmonic interplay that is endemic to the work.  The leader's gritty alto work stands out once again amidst all of the sonic expression that is also characteristic of his music.  There is also some good drum soloing and a crazy trombone solo from the remarkable Lacy, giving some spotlight to an instrument not heard much in modern jazz.

"To Be Announced" has a cool percussive opening, bass line, and a captivating brass harmony to open the piece.  Complex, yet highly listenable as that rhythm keeps things hopping while Lacy bursts into another fine solo--he proves to be the biggest surprise on this album, though Sadik's playing is also of note.

"Paille Street" sounds like it could have come from a classic movie soundtrack when it opens, perhaps because of Murray's beautiful cello playing and the muted brass accompaniment behind her.  Hopkins also plays a beautiful, rich bass to hold down the bottom, while the percussion mainly utilizes brush for a light touch.  This piece is really pretty--one of the nicer ballads in Threadgill's catalog.

Threadgill is known for peculiar titling, perhaps because naming instrumental pieces is an exercise in futility, especially when the music is this complex, dense and striking.  So, "For Those Who Eat Cookies" may not signify much, but check out that amazing interplay among the brass while the rhythm section lays it down nicely behind them.  Threadgill, who gave a lot of space to his fellow musicians to create uniformly excellent solos, staggers again with his amazing alto work, while that interplay continues to be essential to the quality of this piece and the record as a whole.

The follow-up to this record, 1989's Rag, Bush and All and the 1993 album, Too Much Sugar for a Dime may be Threadgill's high-water marks in his long, estimable discography, but You Know the Number is right up there and, if the number was 3 in ranking of his many superb recordings, that's fine company to be in.  This is a great album.

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