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

Henry Threadgill and Zooid use In for a Penny, In for a Pound to do something they've never done before -- take you on a long road trip.
Henry Threadgill & Zooid
In for a Penny, In for a Pound

“This group came together at about the time of the demise of the record industry…. I never depended that much on recordings to keep a band together. That’s basically the documentation…. These are just CDs. I make CDs the way you used to make albums…I don’t believe in putting a whole lot of material on an album, just because you got the space, y’know? It’s like someone brings you a plate and fills it up with food, and do you have to eat it all? I don’t think so… albums, they were just about right, for the American listening public.”

— Henry Threadgill, on his Zooid album This Brings Us To, Volume 1, DESTINATION: OUT (September 20, 2009)

Behold, In for a Penny, In for a Pound — Henry Threadgill’s admission that he and his band Zooid are “all in”. If a penny is a pound, then a side of peas is the same as an entire Thanksgiving dinner. So if that’s the really the case, then the plates are about to get a little heavier with this double album that didn’t exactly need to be a double album (two discs, 79 minutes). A little goes a long way in the realm of Threadgill’s music. It’s not free jazz, but it has more of than just an element of freedom when compared to traditional jazz charts. It’s not abrasive enough to be avant-garde but too rich and detailed to go down easily. Those who have followed Zooid this far already know what they’re in for — the weird contours of Threadgill’s flute and sax when paired up with guitarist/producer Liberty Ellman, the low-end coming courtesy of Joe Davila’s trombone and tuba, and a mid-range covered by Christopher Hoffman’s violincello. The music sounds organized yet it rarely repeats. I’ve tried to read up on Threadgill’s compositional technique and I’ve come to the conclusion that I really just need to be at a rehearsal to understand how music like this is constructed (though a podcast hosted by Dave Douglas comes close to clarifying it).

In for a Penny, In for a Pound is large yet pretty symmetrical, all things considered. Both discs get the music rolling with relatively short pieces. The two songs, “In for a penny, in for a pound (opening)” and “Off the prompt box (exordium)” wouldn’t be out of place on one of the This Brings Us To CDs due to their brevity. The second and third tracks on each half are compositions designed to showcase the other members of Zooid. Hoffman and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee get to hold court for long stretches on the first disc while Ellman and Davila get their 35-plus minutes’ worth for the second disc. Titles like “Ceroepic”, “Dosepic”, “Tresepic”, and “Unoepic” wouldn’t be very much help if it weren’t for their parenthetical subtitles. Close to 90% of this album’s run time belongs to these four huge, sprawling tracks, so they’re worth your attention if you’re curious about how Zooid operates as a band. “There is even more dynamic and timbral contrast with ensemble vignettes turning to sparse monologues or group improvisation on the turn of a dime,” Ellman says of In for a Penny, In for a Pound. He’s certainly right about that dime business. There are a baffling number of changes that happen in the music and most of them come with no forecast ahead of time. “Unoepic”, Ellman’s featured track, seems to stop on a dime. The disjointed melody is grooving along just fine when everyone suddenly halts at once.

If jazz is supposed to described as “the sound of surprise”, then modern jazz is constantly suffering from the burden of trying to out-do all of its previous surprises. Henry Threadgill and Zooid continue to snake underneath it all, holding their hand close while only occasionally throwing out the wild card. It may be a wild card that few people truly understand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. There’s even room to feel invigorated, should you choose to let your guard down all the way.

RATING 8 / 10
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