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Album review: Henry Threadgill Zooid, 'This Brings Us To, Vol. II'

October 26, 2010 |  2:30 pm

Zooid There’s no way to talk about Henry Threadgill's Zooid without first trying to explain what Threadgill is doing. His quintet, named after a type of cell that can move independently of its larger organism, operates within a unique improvisational framework that took the 66-year-old composer and member of Chicago’s highly regarded AACM collective some eight years to perfect, culminating with the release of last year’s acclaimed “This Brings Us To, Vol. 1.”

Now comes “Vol. II,” and the results are just as bewitching, if tough to pin down. Trombonist Jose Davila sets the tone with “Lying Eyes,” weaving through a harmonious conversation between Threadgill’s flute and Liberty Ellman’s acoustic guitar over a rhythmic background that’s quietly assertive, yet unsettled. Throughout the album, the ground keeps moving under everyone’s feet but never feels out of control. Each player gamely operates in a surprising amount of space; patiently introduced melodic turns slowly rise to the surface, such as Stomu Takeishi’s rattling bass solo tangling with Davila’s tuba in the title track and Threadgill’s woozily bent saxophone dialogue with Ellman in “Polymorph.”

Resisting familiar chord changes, scales and overt structure, the album won’t be the easiest of listens for some, but somehow it never sounds the same way twice. As its mysteries unfurl, “This Brings Us To” ultimately remains rewarding simply by being so much fun to follow.

Henry Threadgill Zooid
“This Brings Us To, Vol. II”
3 1/2 stars
Pi Recordings

-- Chris Barton