Henry Threadgill Doubles Up On 'Old Locks And Irregular Verbs' The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer doesn't play on his new jazz album, but critic Kevin Whitehead says Old Locks and Irregular Verbs is nevertheless a perfect introduction to Threadgill's voice.
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Henry Threadgill Doubles Up On 'Old Locks And Irregular Verbs'

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Henry Threadgill Doubles Up On 'Old Locks And Irregular Verbs'

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Music Reviews

Henry Threadgill Doubles Up On 'Old Locks And Irregular Verbs'

Henry Threadgill Doubles Up On 'Old Locks And Irregular Verbs'

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer doesn't play on his new jazz album, but critic Kevin Whitehead says Old Locks and Irregular Verbs is nevertheless a perfect introduction to Threadgill's voice.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Composer Henry Threadgill just won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for music for last year's album "In For A Penny, In For A Pound." It was played by the quintet Zooid with the composer on alto saxophone and flutes. Henry Threadgill doesn't play on his new suite for eight musicians "Old Locks And Irregular Verbs." But jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it's a perfect introduction to Threadgill's voice as a composer - almost a crash course in his music.

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KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Henry Threadgill's new octet called Ensemble Double Up with twin alto saxophones. Threadgill has a thing for doubled instruments. He's had bands with two drummers, two tuba players, two guitarists and even four bassists -a double double. Ensemble Double Up also has two fine piano players - Jason Moran and David Virelles - who lay down fat slabs of sound or merge into one mega-piano or stakeout different corners.

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KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Henry Threadgill doesn't play on his new album, "Old Locks And Irregular Verbs." But his two saxophone surrogates can sound rather like him. They're steeped in the logic of his interval-based weblike harmony. The whole band catches the peculiar no-groove groove that Threadgill has perfected, kind of like swing without a fixed beat. Two pivotal rhythm players carry over from the composer's last band - Joe Davila on tuba and Christopher Hoffman on cello. They give the bottom end a halting and surging ebb and flow.

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KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Cuba-born Roman Filiu and Canada-born Curtis Macdonald on alto saxes. By not playing in his Ensemble Double Up, Henry Threadgill stresses his identity as a composer. Duke Ellington used to marvel at academics who'd write symphonies that never got played. Duke needed to hear his music, so he got himself a band, like later composers of jazz and then some - Threadgill included. His musicians improvise and bring jazz inflections but modern chamber music is another frame of reference. There are some measured silences.

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KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Craig Weinrib barely touching the drums, although that quiet gesture kicks off a long drum solo. Henry Threadgill's "Old Locks And Irregular Verbs" is a continuous suite in memory of his longtime friend Butch Morris, another maverick African-American composer who mixed musicians from different backgrounds. The final movement could be a funeral hymn.

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KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Henry Threadgill knows his music history, including early jazz and brass bands. But even with tuba in there, any echo of an old New Orleans homegoing is faint. This composer is less interested in music's bright past than its wide-open present.

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GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point Of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Old Locks And Irregular Verbs" by the Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about what brain experiments are teaching us about autism. My guest will be neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone, who has overseen experiments using TMS - transcranial magnetic stimulation - of the brain, and John Elder Robison, who is on the autism spectrum and developed a sense of empathy after receiving TMS treatment in the experiment. Robison has written a new memoir. I hope you'll join us.

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