Personnel: Henry Threadgill (flute, alto saxophone); Liberty Ellman (guitar); Jose Davila (trombone, tuba); Stomu Takeishi (bass guitar); Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums).
Audio Mixer: Liberty Ellman.
Recording information: 4D, Brooklyn, NY (11/2008).
There are two main reasons that Henry Threadgill's second Zooid project, This Brings Us To, Vol. II sounds like a rather mercurial mirror image of its 2009 predecessor. The first is that both albums were recorded during the same sessions in 2008. The second is the aesthetic involved in its approach to composition versus improvisation. With this band -- guitarist Liberty Ellman, Jose Davila on trombone and tuba, bassist Stomu Takeishi, and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee -- Threadgill's structural emphasis relies heavily on intervallic investigation rather than harmonic cartography. Unlike his works with the Very Very Orchestra, these five tunes, like those on Vol. I, are decidedly not dynamic; they are developmental in increments. Basic melodies are hinted at simultaneously by all players in the improvisations around them. From the description, this may read like chaos. Not so. The restraint that Threadgill impresses upon his collaborators is akin to that used on his Novus recordings, or more maximal examples which he employed during his Air years. His rhythm section has a free rein, though they restrain their force; Kavee is a syncopation detective, he seeks it out everywhere at once as Takeishi's bass pulls back against the crackling breaks and skittering beats to formulate something approaching a groove. Ellman's guitar touches on key changes and dynamic shifts, where Davila on either -- or sometimes both -- of his instruments lays down a frame for Threadgill to enter on with his alto or flute. Most tunes follow this formula, with the band creating a fluid gel that Threadgill steps into, most notably on "Lying Eyes" and "Extremely Sweet William," though it diverges on the spacious "Polymorph," where all expectations are erased in. With all of the space and non-directness in this approach to ensemble playing, there isn't anything remotely academic about this recording, or its predecessor. Given how foreign its initial construction may seem, it can take a listen or two to fully enter it as a participant, but this music is so lyrical, so full of life, humor, and startling originality, that it's impossible not to get sucked in. The music Zooid creates has the subtlety and lyricism of fine poetry. Given Threadgill's reputation as a musical polymath, this shouldn't be a surprise, because, as evidenced here, in his own way he is reinventing jazz from the inside out. ~ Thom Jurek
Down Beat (p.83) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "The sound is busy, and yet full of space; the players' exchanges convoluted and conversational, yet absolutely purposeful."
JazzTimes (p.65) - "[T]he music pulls you in, and pulls you along, with its strikingly blended voices, exotic Asian and Middle Eastern feel and funkish elements."