Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs

One of contemporary jazz's most unique voices pays respect to another unique voice.

Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up

Old Locks and Irregular Verbs

Label: Pi
US Release Date: 2016-04-01
UK Release Date: Import
Label website

Composer, bandleader, saxophonist, and flautist Henry Threadgill had a good thing going with his modern jazz ensemble Zooid. After a considerable hiatus from recording, the group released four albums in six years' time (the latest being a double), all of which maintained Threadgill's reputation for a challenging and wholly unique musical force among a genre specked with traditionalists and copy cats. Now, there has been a slight change in plans. Lawrence D. Butch Morris, cornetist, avant-garde conductor extraordinaire and a close friend to Threadgill, lost his life to lung cancer in 2013. Old Locks and Irregular Verbs is an extended composition, commissioned by the 2014 Winter Jazz Fest, dedicated to Morris's memory. Henry Threadgill formed a new band for the occasion named Ensemble Double Up. Jason Moran and David Virelles are featured on pianos, Roman Filiu and Curtis MacDonald both play alto saxophones, Christopher Hoffman handles the cello, Joe Davila fills out the bottom on tuba, and Craig Weinrib holds it all together on the drums. This time around, Threadgill does not pick up an instrument.

If you have never heard of Lawrence D. Butch Morris (if you bothered to click on this review, chances are you have heard of him), do not feel bad. His music was not exactly accessible, even within contemporary jazz circles. One thing to take away from this is that his passing now leaves an enormous gap in the music world. There wasn't anyone quite like Morris, before or since. Had he stuck to just playing the cornet, his chops and collaborations alone would have sealed his reputation. Instead he turned to conducting. Butch Morris conducted large ensembles the way that some people prepare their food -- through improvisation, experimentation, and a need to discover the thus-far undiscovered. Releases like Dust to Dust, Holy Sea Vol. 1, and the large-scaled Berlin Skyscraper and more all proved that when Lawrence D. Butch Morris waives a baton in front of an ensemble, anything could occur. You can't commemorate this man's passing with any old toot and blow. Any musical attempt to honor Morris has to be as unique as the subject himself.

Henry Threadgill, for his part, does not attempt to make music that sounds like a Morris "conduction". When Threadgill composes music, it inevitably sounds like Threadgill's music. At the same time, it's a few steps removed from the style of Zooid. There are still oblique melody lines played in choppy rhythms, and repetition remains a non-factor. But the fact that this music is being performed by Ensemble Double Up and not Zooid gives those familiar passages just the slightest difference in flavor (Hoffman and Davila are the only musicians who are members of both bands). The presence of piano, let alone two of them, is enough to change the music's character. In fact, Old Locks and Irregular Verbs starts with a tremendous, impressionistic piano solo from either Moran or Virelles (or perhaps both) that lasts for three-and-a-half minutes.

Old Locks and Irregular Verbs is split into four unnamed parts, indicating that it should be approached as one 46-minute piece of music. Wonky harmonies and prolonged solos carry the day for the first three movements. By the last track, Threadgill is just starting to feel very down about losing his friend of forty-odd years. The piano begins somberly and then grows greatly agitated. As Filiu and MacDonald enter the mix, backed by Weinrib's rolling thunder, the track begins to sound less and less like Henry Threadgill and more like Charles Mingus suffering from heartache and a toothache. A dissonant yet mournful chord brings the piece to a close.

Henry Threadgill may be in his early 70s, but he continues to make music that sounds like no one else. Even when he branches out and doesn't quite sound like himself, he remains inimitable to a startling degree. Could 2016 be the start of a new chapter for Threadgill? Let's hope we all remain this vital when we surpass retirement age.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.