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Henry Threadgill Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound

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Saxophonist/flutist Henry Threadgill has deployed Zooid as his ensemble vehicle for 14 years now, longer than his marvelous, indelible tenures with Air and Very Very Circus. This group is the most schematic and controlled of the three, yet it continues to blossom in new and exciting ways thanks to Threadgill’s unremitting maturity as a composer and conceptualist.

In for a Penny, In for a Pound is an 80-minute work comprising six sections. Threadgill calls it an “epic” and writes that he originally perceived of it as a “stream of phases” to play in an intimate, refined setting. There are similar themes and harmonic intervals in each section, often involving different combinations of instruments, giving the entire piece a twirling, prismatic quality. The CD package spreads the music over two discs, each beginning with a short intro that leads to two longer sections (the shortest of these four is 16 minutes). Threadgill claims that each of these four sections focuses on one instrument, and cites them in titles like “Dosepic (for cello),” but after a half-dozen concentrated listens, I can’t identify that focus aside from brief solos from the identified instrument near the middle of each section. All six sections remain fascinating, ever-shifting exercises in ensemble interplay.

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