Thursday, February 09, 2006

Black History Month: Where's Your Cup?

Black History Month at HurdAudio tunes the ears to a recording from August 1996 from Henry Threadgill & Make A Move: Where's Your Cup? Make A Move is a quintet featuring Henry Threadgill on alto sax and flute, Brandon Ross on electric and classical guitars, Tony Cedras on accordion and harmonium, Stomu Takeishi on 5-string fretless bass and J.T. Lewis on drums.

Kicking off with a long accordion solo by Tony Cedras (2 and a half minutes), "100 Year Old Game" lures the ears into this listening experience with an infectious set of chord changes and a number of melodic elements that seem to span African chants to tango before a pulse is eventually established as the rest of this fine ensemble enters in for a moderate tempo that meanders between 3/4 and 4/4 meters. The combination of Brandon Ross on guitar with the elastic sound of Takeishi's fretless bass is positively inspired. But it's the accordion that is the focal point of this composition. Toward the end this ensemble pours on a nice accelerando that takes this material into klezmer territory as the crisp tone of Ross's guitar cuts clean lines over the sustained accordion timbres.

J.T. Lewis moves into the focal point as "Laughing Club" opens with an extended drum solo (1 minute long exactly, 20% of the total length). He quickly settles into a groove as the rest of the instruments come in with extraordinary balance between some sparse, yet intricately woven parts - some improvised. The alto sax work from Threadgill is particularly noteworthy. Toward the end each part seems to dissolve away into a fine mist that fades away with the last sounds of the ride cymbal decay.

"Where's Your Cup?" begins with a fretless bass line and a slow melodic line from the accordion. Ross seems to add some punctuation with the classical guitar as Lewis fills out the sonic space with some well placed gestures on the cymbals and toms. A couple minutes into this steady crescendo the flute comes in with a counter melodic line. The slow tempo, implied pulse and group improvisation (and unusual instrumentation) make for an intensely beautiful sonic fabric. The classical guitar solo in the middle accompanied only by the bass, accordion and sparse drums is particularly mesmerizing.

The accordion again lays the groundwork as "And This" opens with a minute long solo before a healthy groove from the drums appears. As the accordion part melts away a fantastic solo on the fretless bass unfolds over a steady drum part. Takeishi has a great sonic vocabulary that makes generous use of natural and artificial harmonics, double-stops, strummed chords and some beautiful use of extreme registers on this fantastic instrument. Five minutes in he lays down a confident bass part for the full ensemble to come in as the drums crescendo into a steady groove. Brandon Ross spins out a great solo on the electric guitar over this sonic bed. And Threadgill later answers with a dizzying display on the alto. At this point the texture is pleasantly dense and well-balanced. The groove couldn't be any sweeter.

"Feel's Like It" is an ensemble work that walks that fine line between sounding through-composed and improvised that marks so much of Threadgill's style. The interplay seems too perfect to be improvised but sounds too spontaneous to be written out in full. This one turns on an inner logic and melodic/harmonic austerity that seems to drift effortlessly as different players take turns as a focal point.

"The Flew" sets up a contrast to the preceding track as the drums propel things more forcefully as the accordion and sax churn up the texture with Takeishi's distinctive bass tone holding down the low end. There's so much activity in the drums and yet there's such a lightness to Lewis's playing. The density of this wall of sonic activity builds up as Threadgill splashes some bold lines and colors onto this crazy canvas. Brandon Ross answers with some angular, aggressive electric guitar assaults of his own.

"Go To Far" opens with an arrangement of a slow melodic line with lots of ornamental detail in the arrangement as each sustained tone in the sax and accordion line seems to set off a soft flurry of activity in the drums, bass and guitar parts. Then Ross moves into the foreground for a classical guitar solo as the drums and bass continue to provide soft ripples of an elongated pulse. Then Threadgill takes a turn in the limelight as soloist as he applies a gritty tone from the alto sax as a contrast to this restrained backdrop. Cedras follows sequentially with his own turn in the catbird seat as he explores a timbral role that grows organically out of the rhythm section. Then the melodic theme is then sown back in one more time as this piece concludes.

1 comment:

Sen said...

Thanks for that review, will put where's Your Cup high on my to hear list. Have you heard the other Sony one "Carry the Day"