Where's Your Cup? by Henry Threadgill & Make A Move


Henry Threadgill is a 52-year old man capable of enormous cerebral mischief, whose dry wit and wet curiosity have made him the most consistently creative jazz composer of the past two decades. His tunes are a wrestling match between a formidable intellect and a childlike sense of play--nobody, for example, has substituted tuba players for the acoustic bass as effectively as Threadgill. Rhythm and melody are not as important as harmony and texture in his work, and the texture is often shifting, morphing, rippling, making his "songs" more expansive than even a suite structure can contain: They're the sonic equivalent of cubist paintings. It's not as daunting to listen to as you might think, for Threadgill doesn't cloy or annoy with affectations, and the discrete ideas within the whole are pleasurable on their own terms.

Despite similar personnel, Where's Your Cup? is a departure from Threadgill's two previous Columbia CDs, less brassy and bass-oriented, with Tony Cedras's accordion and harmonium lines (sometimes heaving, sometimes sprightly) at the center of the mix. The set feels less joyful and varied than the composer's finest work, although it certainly has its share of Threadgillian moments. After the South African-inflected accordion solo that opens "100 Year Old Game," Cedras courses through a funky, Eastern European-flavored group exchange, then into another solo that builds with the speed and intensity of a fiddle at a country hoedown.

Dominated by brittle, percussive exchanges between drums and accordion, "And This" is suddenly illuminated by the dulcet warmth of Brandon Ross's guitar. "The Flew" is a more harmonically dense update of Miles Davis's Jack Johnson (itself a funky extension of what Miles was doing with composer Gil Evans, one of Threadgill's most kindred spirits). Big roiling waves of harmony pulsate and ebb, underpinned by agile percussion. Casual listeners may find it turgid, but the texture within the maelstrom is as thick and engaging as a Jackson Pollock canvas, with the sax straining like a wounded dog, the bass notes dark and darting, the harmonium filling all the blank space with its ululating drone. It's wrenching music, and Threadgill wisely follows it up (and closes out the disc) with an atypically airy tune featuring Ross's clean guitar lines, while the accordion and sax occasionally stop by like neighbors borrowing sugar. Threadgill must have grinned when he named it "Go To Far."

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