Henry Threadgill/Air – Open Air Suit 12 LP


Aw’ shiiiit! Henry & henchmen really land the haymaker on this super scintillating four track 1978 exposition. Renowned probably most putatively for his acute compositional verve, Threadgill’s cult “Air” trio that conscripted Steve McCall on drums & Fred Hopkins on double-bass pushed beyond the Jazz preserve & much more in to the dense foliation of intense improvisation/Off Road/Out Back yet sagaciously infusing unstable & sporadic structures & preconceived portions. The clashing essemplastication & subsequent ingrowing-oddity of themes coupled with Threadgill’s momentously anomalous approach to song-status & the razor-sharp expertise of his fellow assailants do yield a particularly unique experience.

As Henry put’s it on his quirk-singed liner notes – “as a piece each person had to play a hand based on what they had in their hand, secondly on what was possibly open. Remembering at all times never to photograph one’s entire position or game plan prematurely” the synchronized & homologating sections occur through perhaps half of the scrimmage, the rest being different gradients of chaos & order separation & synergy ceding & ascending control.

Side-A or “First Hand” saunters in with The Jick Of The Mandrill’s Cosmic Ass. Beginning with solitary drums that sound like random ruminations of uncoordinated asymmetry, the bass slowly edges it’s fat-arse into the cock-pit, seemingly unaware of any existing script. a sly transformation occurs on bass (Hopkins delivers some of the deftest & exceedingly lingual bass mastery throughout the album in so many styles & behaviours) & the epiphany that this shit actually has an agenda slowly dawns, cue Threadgill strutting in with the tracks signature sax line – with all the cartoonish flamboyance of a one-eyed outlaw circus-master. The scheme is in five & lopes through marvellously along with more vigorous improvised expressions from Henry.

Next is Card Five: Open Air Suit, a ten minute plus exercise cross-flipping like a chameleon between a writhing corybantic mess & super punctilious coordination & premeditated pieces of stuttering trickery & feint.

Second Hand/Side-B begins with “Card Four: Straight White Royal Flush…78” the most hectic & disaggregated tune from the session, a brilliant flurry of fast jabs & energetic-pillory from Threadgill & clattering buzz-roll & compact energy-burst astatic agitation asymmetry from McCall.

The last track is “Card One: Cutten {2Knuckles 2Windows 2 Tricks}” (the actual graph of the songs epitaph is even more ridiculous). Henry is on flute & the lot of them play giant coils of winding peculiarity in some kind of evocation of thoroughly confused brilliance. Super abstract but also with masses of detail, activity & action & little space. This kind of deportment can easily go wrong & end up sounding frankly, shit! & pretentious, but these cats handle it with remarkable ductility & class, I absolutely love this bizarre, brilliant & exceptionally played splicing, twisting in & out of free-floating & form based dialects, or inserting each other’s “specification” into the others food-supply for wondrous effect.

What an album! It’s the best I have heard from Air, & has to be one of the weirdest & most unorthodox (even in Avant territory, this is a distinct category) yet hugely technically accomplished Avant-Jazz albums with stupendously progressive/expansive qualities. The design-concept of the record sleeve is also well worth noting, particularly the back. The design, symbols & a small piece of text written by Henry all blend & compliment the outlandish sounds of the trio. The cover image is pretty astonishing as well. Crazy fucking shit!!!

 Rekd: 1978

Label: Novus