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Henry Threadgill

Last Thursday the great composer and instrumentalist Henry Threadgill performed "A Tribute to Butch Morris" as part of the New Frequencies Fest, Jazz in the Present Tense at Yerba Buena Center. Billed as the Henry Threadgill Double-Up, the band featured pianists David Bryant and David Virelles, alto saxophonists Curtis Macdonald and Roman Filiu, drummer Craig Weinrib, tuba player Jose Davila, and cellist Christopher Hoffman. Threadgill listened from the side of the stage glancing at charts, occasionally sprinting to the front of the band to cue an ensemble section. I would have loved to hear his alto sax and flute comment on and cajole the band's playing, but Threadgill chose just to conduct. Unlike his comrade in arms, my late friend Butch Morris, it seemed the long pieces were fairly well worked out, with stretches of free improvisations brought back to earth by intricate written motifs. Butch's compositions were almost entirely improvised, hence his inventing the term, conduction. But in the unique polytonal and polyrhythmic textures, it was indeed a fabulous tribute to Butch, and I'm sure he would have been very moved. Butch also was a great instrumentalist in the first half of his career, on cornet. We had talked about recording together when he was still playing in the early 80s. It's one of my few regrets. "Too ting ting ting for me" was the way Butch described retro jazz. Threadgill, like Butch, makes sure the music keeps changing.
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