It’s nice that Hamilton won a Pulitzer and all, but the real thing to celebrate is that Henry Threadgill won one.
In the category for music, the Pulitzers honored In for a Penny, in for a Pound, last year’s double CD from Threadgill’s Zooid group. It’s only the third jazz honoree, the last one being Ornette Coleman’s Sound Grammar in 2007 and Wynton Marsalis’ Blood on the Fields in 1997.
The award is a nice bit of recognition for Threadgill, one of the surviving pioneers of the AACM and a contemporary of New York’s loft-jazz era. It’s also a feather in the cap of Pi Recordings, which has been consistent in celebrating fresh and innovative jazz. (Some might call it too academic, which is fair — but me, I eat that stuff up.)
In for a Penny It is highly improvised, but it’s far from random — like Cecil Taylor’s music, it has a sound. There’s strategy and organization to the chugging, bubbling rhythm, and the players are Threadgill veterans who have built up the intuition and mental muscle memory to execute it (seemingly) with ease.
If there’s one difference from other Zooid albums, it’s in song structure. The four long pieces making up the bulk of the album are mini-suites; there are pauses where the band takes a breath and then moves into some new mood or style. Threadgill was going for an ambitious, epic scope, and it works.
For more reading, check out Nate Chinen’s report for The New York Times — richly written, as always. And do take a moment to read the Pulitzer committee’s announcement. The jury in this case was chaired by Julia Wolfe (Bang on a Can) and included violinist Regina Carter. They know their stuff.
So, is Henry Threadgill going to rest on his laurels? Of course not. He’s already got another album out.