52 Jazz Tracks for 2021 (30. Chicago Breakdown. ‘Air’. From ’80° Below ’82’ (1982))

The 30th of Jon Turney’s weekly selections finds a great Chicagoan injecting new life into an appropriate Jelly Roll Morton classic.

The opening track on this wonderful LP is Henry Threadgill’s homage to an earlier era, a footnote to an earlier project featuring Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin.

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It’s a glorious rediscovery of a brilliant piece. The ferocious, bouncing swing of Fred Hopkins’ bass and Steve McCall’s matchless sense of dynamics – most of the time sticking to brushes – give Morton’s tune the rhythmic energy it deserves. Threadgill’s scorching alto – more prominent in the trio than in much of his later work – slips in and out of playing the original line and offering more contemporary elaborations

The treatment doesn’t supersede classic versions by, say, Louis Armstrong – who had his own kind of freedom – but the rhythmic flexibility and interactive playfulness of the modern players does give it a dimension that you have to consciously put aside to appreciate the earlier realisations properly. And that bass solo certainly isn’t like anything you could have heard in Morton’s day.

Threadgill has got more involved since with thicker textures, and music with more complex layers. This earlier highlight is a great example of beauty of his alto playing, of exploiting a great bass and drums pairing to reaffirm that great jazz can be good time music (and for making that sound deceptively easy), and – in hindsight – of one important composer paying tribute to another.


More on this recording on Jon’s Bristol Jazz Log

Read Jon’s introduction to the ’52 tracks’ series

Week Twenty-nine.Now Listen here, Mike Gibbs

Spotify playlist for the series. (with a different Threadgill track this week)

2 replies »

  1. Great track proves that musicians can look back at an older idiom without regurgitation, Air were legendary band, masters Hopkins and McCall definitely missed

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