- Of Valence - Movement I
- Of Valence - Movement II
- Of Valence - Movement III
The latest from Pulitzer Prize-winner Henry Threadgill, The Other One, is comprised of a three-movement composition entitled “Of Valence” that was the musical component of a large multimedia work performed and recorded live at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn, New York in May, 2022. Written for a 12-piece ensemble – made up of an unusual instrumental combination of three saxophones, violin, viola, two cellos, tuba, percussion, piano and two bassoons – The New York Times described the performance as possessing “a galvanic sense of swing,” and “in lock-step with his every surprise rhythmic feint — producing an obliquely danceable, straightforwardly joyous Threadgillian energy.”
Downbeat called Threadgill “probably the most important composer/improviser around at the moment” in its review of his prior release, Poof (Pi 2021). That album featured Zooid, his main working band for more than two decades and his workshop for developing his unique concept of using prescribed intervallic patterns in composition and group improvisation. That method – which helped the group win the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for music for its release In for a Penny, In for a Pound – continues to be used in all of Threadgill’s new music, including “Of Valence.” Regular members of prior Threadgill ensembles – Jose Davila on tuba, Christopher Hoffman on cello, Craig Weinrib on drums – also take part, helping to bring that inimitable Threadgill sound to the proceedings. The ensemble is further made up of younger acolytes and musicians whose practice straddles that interstice between composed and improvised music. All of the hallmarks of Threadgill’s music are here: unpredictable forms, unusual instrumental combinations creating surprising timbres, percolating rhythms, interwoven melodic strains, and masterful interlacing of composition with improvisation.
The recording was taken from the second of two performances respectively entitled “One” and “The Other One.” Threadgill was driven to create this new large work based on his observations of the exodus of people from New York City during the Covid pandemic. In particular, he was struck by the left-behind detritus that littered the sidewalks of his East Village neighborhood and what this reveals about human transience, rampant consumerism, and a disposable society. It encompasses video, projected paintings and photographs, electronics, a pre-recorded choir made up of his own voices, and even Threadgill singing while accompanying himself at the piano. In between all of these elements he recited prose that expressed his own wry and often humorous observations on the effect of technology and its effect on human behavior. The performances were a clear extension to the AACM impulse to break boundaries and be artists in a holistic way, not just in musical expression, a central tenet shared by so many of that organization’s titans.
“Of Valence” is dedicated to the percussionist and polymath Milford Graves, who passed away in 2021. The piece was inspired by Graves’ dedicated study of the human heart beat and its application to music. This can be heard in particular in Movement II, where the string trio of Sarah Caswell on violin, Stephanie Griffin on viola and Mariel Roberts on cello, play their parts while listening to a playback of their own heartbeats as recorded previously by a cardiologist. Their individual pulses dictate the tempo at which they play, further highlighting their snaking, contrapuntal weave. Graves’s influence can further be observed in the use of transducers hooked up to drummer Weinrib’s cymbals, the signal from which are then electronically altered, lending them an other-worldly timbral sheen.
Even at the age of 79, 2023 promises to be another banner year for Threadgill. His long-awaited memoir, Easily Slip Into Another World, will be published by Alfred A. Knopf together with the release of The Other One. The book was written in collaboration with Brent Hayes Edwards, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he is also affiliated with the Center for Jazz Studies. His prior books include Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination (Harvard University Press, 2017), which won the 2018 ASCAP Foundation Virgil Thomson Award for Outstanding Music Criticism as well as the 2019 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin. Edwards was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2015, and in 2020 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is currently one of the inaugural Ford Foundation Scholars in Residence at the Museum of Modern Art. The memoir — told in episodic fashion — charts Threadgill’s individual path through his upbringing in Chicago, early musical influences, harrowing accounts of his military deployment to Viet Nam, inspiration by Muhal Richard Abrams and the AACM, and his brilliant over half-century long career in music. Perfectly capturing his typically droll observations on art, race, and history, it is another outgrowth of Threadgill’s ever-fascinating and multi-faceted artistic creativity.