Part 1:  History

1.1   Joy

In the old days, before such things as cell phones and the internet and downloads and blitzkrieg mass marketing campaigns with their inescapable, slick, iconic images, there was the act of exploring.  I mean actual, physical exploring.  It could be ritualistic; it could be random and governed by happenstance; it could be simply a way of killing time; but it was also a source of great pleasure—one could even say that there was once such a thing as the joy of exploration.  Yes, there was a joy in probing the core of actual cities, traversing old neighborhoods, finding your way around in strange places, in search of alluring objects and experiences.  In those days we went into actual buildings made of real materials-- old brick and mortar or newly poured concrete or generations of wood and plaster and baffling-- and eagerly pawed through whatever they had, driven by an addiction to strong and obscure experiences that couldn’t be found just anywhere.
This is how I found myself in certain spaces -- crowded, fluorescent basements in Madison and Richmond; simple storefronts where the grey light poured in through huge windows in Portland and Minneapolis; wonderful, multi-level, terraced showrooms in Seattle and St. John’s – that I would never otherwise have set foot in.  This is why, to this day, I adapt my travel plans to allow for such indulgences: addiction, exploration, joy.

1.2    Finding Threadgill

In a very broad sense, I can trace my pursuit of Threadgill’s music in particular back to New Orleans, in 1992, at my friend Alec’s clean apartment in Mid-City.  Somehow I had gotten a hold of a bicycle and had ridden it up there from The Quarter and my dirty little lodging, a former slave quarters.  Alec had air conditioning that worked, and the whole atmosphere was cool, clean, crisp, and surrounded by greenery.  And there was something crisp and infectious about the piano-centered music he was playing.  “Cecil Taylor,” he disclosed, “It’s like Monk on speed”.  I was already quite familiar with Monk and Coltrane and Davis, but I’d never heard anything quite so edgy and incisive as this, so unabashed and pure — and, I must say — content to be inaccessible if it needed to be.  Alec made me copies of some Taylor as well as another tape that he played that day-- frenetic, infectious, wild saxophone-based marches spurred on by relentless, compulsive drumming.  David Murray backed by Ed Blackwell. There were worlds within worlds to explore on those two tapes alone, but in the coming years my thirst for music that was bitterly strong, complex, alluring, disturbing, and perplexing would be unquenchable.  

I fist stumbled onto Threadgill’s music by accident a few years later when I checked out a disc from the Iowa City Public library just because I was attracted to the name of his band-- Very Very Circus.  On this first taste of Threadgill, I found the music dense and overwhelming-- too much was going on and I didn’t know how to break it down, take it all in or follow it. I tried listening to it a few times before giving up and returning it to the library.

mplsThe next summer, on a visit to Minneapolis, I had a conversation with my friend Oliver; in his little wooden box of an apartment we compared notes on what we considered to be strong, unique music.  He brought up Threadgill and I related my observations and reactions from my first attempt.  He urged me to try again; in fact he couldn’t have praised Threadgill more strongly. 
A year or so later in Iowa City, I found Threadgill again -- the second time was a charm.  At least partially—the majority of tracks were still beyond me.  But I did find two or three that had infectious grooves and appealing instrumentation. Was it jazz?  I didn’t know and didn’t care.  I threw a couple of tracks onto one of the compilation tapes that I made obsessively in those years and found that they stood out—in fact they grew on me as time passed.  They were rich and complex, universes of sound with microcosms that I could get lost in, full of interesting juxtapositions and accents, yet never losing an undeniable groove and powerful forward     momentum—like some kind of crazy multi-ethnic, multi-instrumental, electric marches with an infectious appeal that continued to grow the more I listened.  I resolved to find more of this stuff wherever and whenever I could.  Over the course of the next decade I would try to find Threadgill wherever I went.

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