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The Big Takeover Issue #94
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Henry Threadgill Ensemble - The Other One (Pi)

29 May 2023

Pulitzer Prize-winner Henry Threadgill seems set for a milestone year. Not only has he just put out his memoir Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music, but he’s released his latest piece of music The Other One. Consisting of one longform piece (begging the question of why the album wasn’t named after it, but never mind), “Of Valence” is performed in three movements by a chamber ensemble of Threadgill’s own design, with three saxophones, two bassoons, violin, viola, two cellos, tuba, piano, and percussion (with a smattering of electronics). The composer himself stays off his trademark alto sax and flute and sticks to conducting. Not that it matters – as with any Threadgill band, the Ensemble is an extension of his musical will. The group plays by their leader’s rules: exploiting the tension between the timbres of instrumentation not usually found together, employing Threadgill’s signature harmonies that sound dissonant on the surface but reveal rich textures on repeat listens, and swirling around a throughline only the creator can hear (but the musicians trust is there). If anything, “Of Valence” is more accessible than Threadgill’s usual fare, with the strings adding a lushness even when deliberately clashing with the rest of the Ensemble, while pianist David Virelles and the saxists improvising solos as if they were playing hard bop. Dedicated to late drum maverick Milford Graves, The Other One is prime Threadgill.