ALBUM REVIEW / JAZZ : HENRY THREADGILL: “Carry the Day” <i> Columbia Records</i> , ** 1/2

This is not easy music to hear. Let’s be very clear about that. Only rarely does it venture into the combination of improvisation and propulsive rhythm that represents, for most listeners, the bare essential of jazz. More often, it rambles, sometimes with seeming chaos, through unusual textures blending accordions, tubas, a French horn and assorted other musical exotica. So, if you’re looking for familiar jazz sounds, stay away from this one.

But if you’d like to sample the work of a composer-saxophonist who has consistently stretched the outer limits of jazz (even if he doesn’t care to have the word applied to his music), here’s a perfect opportunity.

Influenced by everything from Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus to modern dance, theater, poetry and contemporary classical music, Threadgill has always marched to his own drummer, and he undoubtedly will not allow his recent linkage to a major label to change the way he does things. This is his fourth album (but first on Columbia) with the 14-piece group he calls Very Very Circus Plus, and it continues the pattern of mixing carefully constructed instrumental timbres with snippets of free jazz blowing, sung/spoken poetry and impulsive ensemble improvisations that Threadgill has followed since his ‘60s tenure with Chicago’s Assn. for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

There is fine soloing from Threadgill on alto saxophone and Mark Taylor on French horn, and Sentienla Toy manages to bring some urgency to the abstract, even Dadaistic qualities of Threadgill’s poetry. It all sounds very sudden, spontaneous and random, which probably pleases Threadgill greatly. Among his many other accomplishments, the one that is most apparent in this creatively demanding album is the capacity to compose music that possesses the impetuous, unexpected energy of an improvised solo.


It will be interesting to see how Columbia handles Threadgill--an artist who can hardly be expected to sell mega-numbers of recordings, yet who will surely insist upon continuing to formulate his own kind of music. Consider it a provocative intersection of art and commerce.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).