Henry Threadgill has built a legacy of reinvention. The former Chicagoan emerged from the pervasive influence of the AACM with a remarkable trio called Air, which, among other things, reinterpreted Scott Joplin rags with gusto and verve. Air gave reedman Threadgill an opportunity to develop genre-smashing tendencies. Following its demise he formed the seven-member Henry Threadgill Sextett--the dual drummers were counted as a single member--providing the leader's orchestral predilections with a gorgeous tonal range that well served his increasingly vibrant harmonies and contrapuntal arrangements. After a half dozen terrific albums the group disbanded. Since his Air days Threadgill has been assimilating all sorts of music--classical and blues, gospel and polka, marching band and New Orleans R & B--into his compositions in unexpected, breathtaking ways. The combo he leads now, Very Very Circus, is a sort of double trio with drummer, including a pair of tubas (Marcus Rojas and Edwin Rodriguez), two electric guitars (Brandon Ross and Masujaa), a French horn (Mark Taylor), alto sax and flute (Threadgill), and drums (Gene Lake). What could be a muddled novelty in lesser hands ripples with surprisingly liquid, highly danceable grace. Undergirded by distinct tuba lines that glide and curve more than they oompah, VVC music is marked by intersecting lines rich with nonjazz melodies and thrilling harmonic twists. The group's third and most recent studio offering, Carry the Day (Columbia), finds Threadgill trotting the globe more than ever; the buoyant "Come Carry the Day," for example, throbs with a fat groove appropriated from Venezuela as well as oozing sensuous accordion lines and calypsoesque vocals. If anything characterizes the unit's current work it's a dedication to unique stylistic polyglots, although one musn't ignore the vitality of the economical improvisations couched in these exciting gems. Threadgill's rare local appearances render attendance pretty darn mandatory. Friday, 9 and 11 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Roger Tully.