Henry Threadgill — At Columbia University’s Miller Theater, Threadgill premiered a commissioned work called “Peroxide” and debuted a new ensemble, Aggregation Orb. The band sounded somewhat like an expanded version of Zooid, and in fact featured some of the same players: Jose D’Avila on tuba, Tarik Benbrahim on oud, Dana Leong on cello. The two featured soloists were vibraphonist Bryan Carrott (a member of Threadgill’s Make a Move group) and vocalist Raymond Frith (from the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble). Filling out the aggregation were JD Parran on clarinet, Vincent Chancey on French horn, Marvin Sewell on acoustic guitar, Elektra Kurtis on violin, Alan Grubner on viola, Yousif Sheronick on percussion and Reggie Nicholson on drums. In this year’s Miller Theater concert series, Threadgill finds himself in the company of Penderecki, Rorem, Birtwistle and Babbitt, among others; it’s excellent to see his music receive such highbrow recognition. While “Peroxide” proved to be quite brief (the concert lasted less than an hour), it gave listeners plenty to consider: scrapingly dissonant harmonies, unpredictable transitions and instrumental configurations, and plenty of Threadgill’s distinctive, extra-terrestrial groove. The second movement was especially enchanting, starting off with solo oud and slowly working in violin and slide guitar.
Prior to the concert, four panelists (John Szwed, George Lewis, Brent Edwards and Robert O’Meally) convened to discuss “Threadgill in Context.” Szwed described the Chicago milieu from which Threadgill emerged. Lewis elaborated on the same, but also spent time on Threadgill’s chromatic voicing system, which he described, in a nod to pop culture, as “The Matrix.” (Threadgill’s music, Lewis argued, invites one to “create the Matrix anew with each listening experience.”) Edwards had the most fun, zeroing in on the peculiar lexicon of Threadgill’s song titles (“Do the Needful,” “Paper Toilet,” “Try Some Ammonia”) and what they reveal about his artistry. O’Meally wrapped up by focusing on Threadgill’s approach to instrumentation and his specific contributions as a saxophonist.
Dave Douglas — The trumpeter/composer is always throwing curves, and his new project “Word” is perhaps the curviest yet. Featuring Myron Walden on alto sax and bass clarinet, Roswell Rudd on trombone, James Genus on bass, Clarence Penn on drums and Andy Bey on piano and vocals, this group takes its inspiration from poetry; Bey sings verses put to melodies. It’s the closest thing to a songwriting project that Douglas has done, although the music is thoroughly jazz-like in feel and complexity. The soloists and the ensemble colors were radiant at the Village Vanguard, where this new music enjoyed its premiere. Bey’s weighty baritone brought out the inherent music in Adrienne Rich’s “Final Notations,” Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Progress,” Basho’s “Village of No Bells,” and more.
Michael Hashim with Andy Bey — Bey in fact had to rush downtown to the Vanguard after this spirited tribute to Billy Strayhorn at the Thalia at Symphony Space, featuring saxophonist Michael Hashim, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Kenny Washington. Hashim — quite the colorful emcee in his green jacket, purple pants and fedora — played a hard-swinging alto and exhibited a Bechet-like bite on soprano. Bey drew ecstatic and well-deserved applause for his luscious vocal treatments of “Pretty Girl” (aka “The Star-Crossed Lovers”), “All Roads Lead Back to You” (aka “Lotus Blossom”), “Satin Doll” and “Just a-Settin’ and a-Rockin’.” When Bey hits his higher register and pushes upward in volume, he almost sounds like a soul singer; one may even hear faint traces of Stevie Wonder (as a baritone). The effect on an audience is electric. It was Bey’s unaccompanied rendition of “Lush Life” that left the deepest impression, however. Hats off, too, to Kenny Washington for his marvelously subtle mallet playing on “Absinthe” (aka “Lament for an Orchid”).
The Trumpet Shall Sound — This series, which paired Roy Hargrove with four lesser-known, highly promising trumpeters, provided some of last year’s top musical highlights. The Jazz Gallery wisely chose to repeat the series last month, with Keyon Harrold, Jonathan Finlayson, Sean Jones and Maurice Brown in the hot seat.