Vinyl from Chicago, pt. 1--Henry Threadgill

A few weeks ago, I visited a dear friend in Chicago.  Though it was mostly a catching-up and sightseeing journey, I did manage to stop by a few record stores while I was there.  I was especially missing record stores because my local record haunts have all closed in the last couple of years.

It was interesting to see that vinyl is making a comeback: I went to three record stores, one of which was all-vinyl, and the other two were ostensibly representing all kinds of media formats but were easily over half-vinyl.  My own buying habits in the last few years have followed this trajectory, too.  Ten years ago, I was probably buying 3 or 4 CDs a week and maybe a couple of vinyl-format releases per year, but now I buy vinyl almost exclusively.

At any rate, I went with a small list of artists to look for on vinyl--mostly things that wouldn't likely be found in my area--and I totally rocked my list!  The only thing I didn't return home with that I was hoping for was something from Gong's Radio Gnome Trilogy.  Maybe next time.

I wanted to highlight a couple of the Chicago-oriented things I picked up, starting with a fellow whose music I think is tragically underappreciated: Henry Threadgill.  Henry was one of the founders of Chicago's legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, an organization whose contribution to avant-jazz and forward thinking music continues to this day.  But I don't hear Threadgill's work being discussed as much as some of his fellow AACM founders like Anthony Braxton or the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  I'm a huge fan of the AACM folks in general, especially Braxton, but I think Threadgill's work deserves more attention.

My favorite Threadgill periods are his work as composer/bandleader in the 80s and 90s, with the Henry Threadgill Sextet and Very Very Circus, respectively.  And my favorite album of his is the one I managed to find in Chicago, the Henry Threadgill Sextet 1989 release "Rag, Bush and All."  And even in Threadgill's home turf, this mint (still factory shrinkwrapped) vinyl was only going for $6.

The sextet (actually featuring 7 members) takes on 4 Threadgill compositions here, swinging with a lot of attitude and swagger.  The band is tight, but they also broadcast a certain kind of loose recklessness that perfectly captures the ethos of the Bad Note Manifesto of my last post.  Threadgill himself is in fine form, mostly playing alto.  Percussionists Newman Baker and Reggie Nicholson form a powerful unit, playing so intimately together that Threadgill can count them as one person to keep his "sextet" numerically honest.  But one of my favorite aspects of this lineup is Fred Hopkins' work on bass.  On many jazz records, my least favorite moments tend to be bass solos, but on Rag, Bush and All, Hopkins' moments in the sun are among my favorites.  He manages to keep energy and musical momentum high during his breaks, resulting in solo sections that feel more like a simple change of orchestration than "bass solo time."

As I mentioned above, Threadgill's work seems to be underappreciated: I find no videos of this Sextet performing, and this record is long out of print.  But I think you'll find that Threadgill's music of the 80s is a beautiful bridge between the approaches of folks like Mingus and the music of some later 90s NYC bands like Sex Mob or Joey Baron's trio or Tim Berne's groups.

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