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Mulligan, Baritone Bard; Threadgill, Alto Innovator

HENRY THREADGILL

“Makin’ a Move”

Columbia

* * * 1/2

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Saxophonist Threadgill, the mastermind behind the Chicago-spawned, free-form ‘70s trio Air, has garnered accolades in the ‘90s as a composer writing for various ensembles under the name Very Very Circus. But these recordings, including “Spirit of Nuff . . . Nuff” and “You Know the Number,” weren’t really all that compositionally ambitious, with simple yet twisted themes often backed by accessible rhythms framing Threadgill’s alto musings.

“Makin’ a Move,” Threadgill’s most compositionally effective effort to date, continues that focus on innovative instrumental combinations. The Very Very Circus lineup, with alto, two tubas and guitars, French horn and percussion, takes four of the seven numbers. One track is written for alto and three cellos. The opening number, without saxophone, is for piano and four guitars. Guitars and cellos combine on another.

The variety of formats gives the disc a decided new music feel. String passages develop the kind of grating tension heard in Bartok’s String Quartets behind penetrating alto lines. Tuba riffs huff along in beat-minded style through a maze of shimmering guitars. The first three tunes form a sort of suite that defines the entire album. Before developing a pulsing direction, “Noisy Flowers,” for piano and guitars, wanders anxiously in a way that recalls the uncertain flow of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony. “Like It Feels,” driven by Pheeroan Aklaff’s detailed funk, makes a sinister statement as the alto theme is batted around by the tubas. “Official Silence” is the most accessible piece on the album, with tubas that shuffle along a meandering path of changes.

Only minor drawbacks keep “Makin’ a Move” from perfection. The serious mood of “Like It Feels” returns in the self-righteous theme of “Make Hot and Give,” creating moments of deja vu . The combination of three cellos and four guitars gives “The Mockingbird Sin” an impenetrable density in places.

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But these are minor quibbles. Overall, “Makin’ a Move” is an album that blurs the lines between avant-garde jazz and new music composition. It should be in the collection of anyone on the lookout for both challenging and inspiring sounds.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four (excellent).


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