MoMA Mixtape: Brent Hayes Edwards Slips into Another World
The writer and scholar offers an introduction to the extraordinary music of composer Henry Threadgill.
Brent Hayes Edwards
Jun 13, 2023
In the wake of the recent publication of Easily Slip into Another World, which I wrote with the Pulitzer Prize–winning composer and multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill over the course of more than a dozen years, I still find myself navigating the city to the soundtrack of Henry’s astonishing music. In this playlist, I’ve woven some of the echoes I heard one afternoon as I explored the MoMA collection galleries into an introduction to the wonders of the Threadgill discography from the past half-century.
Jacques-Enguérrand Gourgue’s Magic Table + “Sir Simpleton” by X-75
Even as Air was starting to record its first albums in the mid-1970s, Threadgill was also composing for other ensembles, some with radically different instrumental configurations. By 1975 he was performing around Chicago with his X-75 band, a combination of four contrabasses, wordless vocals, Henry’s alto saxophone, and three flutes. “Sir Simpleton” is a composition that Henry re-arranged for different ensembles, and there is an intriguing contrast between the dense thicket of the X-75 version and the infectious hubkaphone-leavened version performed by New Air (with Pheeroan AkLaff replacing Steve McCall in the drum chair) at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1983. In either version, the tune has a faux-naïve, almost ritualistic opacity that reminds me of the forbidding creatures in the mysterious ceremony depicted in Jacques-Enguérrand Gourgue’s Magic Table.
Brent Hayes Edwards is a Ford Foundation Scholar-in-Residence at The Museum of Modern Art and the Peng Family Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His award-winning books include Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination (2017).
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