Henry Threadgill; “Too Much Sugar for a Dime”; Axiom


Henry Threadgill plays what you might call “world jazz”--and on his latest outing he does it for those who aren’t overly concerned with which world it comes from.

The veteran alto saxophonist and composer and his cohorts draw on folk and pop music sources from myriad countries and genres: Latin jazz, funk, hip-hop, Afro pop and several that are, as Duke Ellington put it, beyond category. They strike a graspable groove, if at all, only long enough to tease. Mostly they’re interested in creating moods; once established, those moods are squeezed, expanded or exploded at will.

On “Better Wrapped/Better Unrapped,” for instance, just as you lock into the heavy-metal-funk-meets-orchestral-tuning session feel, there’s a clean break into a call-and-response chorus that’s part Brazilian percussion workout and part Yoruba-style chant. Then it’s back to the original battle of rhythmic and melodic wits.


“Paper Toilet” seems like another free-form riffing session until its structure as a musical stairway to heaven reveals itself, snaking ever-so-slowly chromatically upward.

The instrumental mix of his seven-piece Very Very Circus band is likewise unconventional. Gritty alto sax, percolating electric guitars and drums are offset by the darker sonorities of French horn and two tubas (which, at one point, add a festive New Orleans second-line atmosphere to the proceedings).

Weird? Often. Challenging? Always. Rewarding? Yes, but more intellectually than emotionally.

Although generally on a more intimate scale than, say, Sun Ra’s extraterrestrial big-band excursions, Threadgill’s efforts strive for a similar Roddenberryish goal: to boldly go where no musician has gone before.