Henry Threadgill’s Musical Spring Is Varied and Extreme. Like He Is.

Even as a child, Henry Threadgill liked to experiment.

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and saxophonist’s new memoir, “Easily Slip Into Another World,” he recounts a youthful attempt to fly from a window using a “contraption” of his own devising.

He managed to escape the ensuing, predictable crash without breaking any bones, but the young Threadgill did earn a reputation for daring in his Chicago neighborhood. His mother’s response — “Henry, why do you have to be so extreme?” — became, as he writes, “the refrain of my childhood.”

That same question may have occurred to a few listeners. But Threadgill, 79, has done plenty of soaring, on stages, over the years: composing music intended for social dancing, and pieces for orchestra and string quartet in which players are encouraged to improvise. He has also led some of the most widely acclaimed ensembles in the past half-century of American jazz.

Appropriately, he has an interdisciplinary spirit. In addition to his book — written with Brent Hayes Edwards and published by Knopf earlier this month — Threadgill is engaged in a flurry of additional artistic activity, including a new album, “The Other One,” out on Pi Recordings.

Scored for a 12-piece ensemble and recorded live at Roulette last year, Threadgill’s chamber music on this release impressed me immediately, as I wrote when it was performed. Those concerts also featured multimedia elements, which Threadgill incorporated into a documentary film that provides a fuller look at the material. That movie, which he produced and edited with D. Carlton Bright, screened at the Museum of Modern Art in late May.

Both the show and the film helped Threadgill scratch a long-held creative itch. In a recent interview, he recalled having been impressed by Alban Berg’s opera “Lulu,” which, in an unusual touch for its period, makes dramatic use of a short film at its midpoint. (“That’s one of my favorite operas,” he said. “Love ‘Lulu!’”)

Threadgill said that when he produced the staged version of “The Other One,” he realized: “Now is my chance to integrate art, poetry, photographs — everything — into one piece.”

This can be a lot to keep up with. But as in his childhood, Threadgill comes by his extreme approach to artistic production honestly.

That much was clear earlier this spring when I met him at one of his favorite spots: a combination coffee shop and plant store in the East Village. At one point, as I was peppering him with questions about his mutability, he gestured to consumers throughout the store.

“It has to do with cognition,” he replied. “What do we really see or observe? All these people are different sizes, but it’s the same bone structure.”

Put another way, all his work is connected, even if he’s not going to get into the DNA of it all with you at the drop of a hat. As he writes in his book, “I find that the less I say about my music, the better.” (And at another point: “Music is about listening. Nothing I say can mean anything once you start to listen.”)

Still, a question or two may linger. For example, doesn’t the piano music that kicks off “The Other One” flirt in a surprising way with noirish harmony? And doesn’t that represent something of a break with much of his output this century, which has been conceived outside major/minor composition?

When I brought that up, Threadgill said, with a touch of good-natured evasion: “These tonal centers, they don’t really mean anything. I love harmony and stuff. But it’s kinda like looking at those flowers over there. You keep scanning; you never really stop.”

Fair enough. This piano music — laced as it is with those recognizable tonalities — doesn’t simply resolve there. At the end of that opening section, two saxophones enter with staggered lines that hustle into a more frenetic state of mind. That’s the more recognizable, recent sound world of Threadgill’s music, driven by a quasi-serialized use of intervals, that has most often been performed by his core ensemble, Zooid.

Subsequent sections in “The Other One,” like the track titled “Mvt I, Sections 6A-7A,” sound more like the Zooid recording of “In for a Penny, In for a Pound,” which won Threadgill his Pulitzer.

Still, there’s a sense of that language being developed on the new album, particularly in the music for strings, which is featured during much of “Movement II.” “I’ve been able to expand the language,” Threadgill said. “I have a whole ’nother freedom now, where I’m moving.”

He then leaped from his seat, seeking a piece of paper from the shop’s employees. On the scrap, he began to diagram some of the modernist composer Edgard Varèse’s ideas about flipping musical intervals — an approach he also describes toward the end of “Easily Slip” — and showed how he was building on Varèse’s example in “The Other One.”

After Threadgill filled up the paper with sequences of intervals and melodic phrases — the latter built from a pattern, like Morse Code, of long and short phrases — he moved to toss his notes in the trash.

I stopped him. Preserving Threadgill’s working methods is no small matter. Throughout “Easily Slip,” there are tantalizing references to recordings of vintage orchestral performances that have yet to be made available to the public. Some important collaborations, such as concerts with Cecil Taylor, ‌have not been preserved on fixed media at all.

Threadgill is thinking about fixing some of these problems. One orchestral recording in his possession may eventually see the light of day on a website, currently under construction, called Baker’s Dozen, a portal that he also plans to offer to other artists who have valuable unreleased tapes in their possession. (He mentioned the pioneering Minimalist Terry Riley as someone who might wind up providing material for the site.)

“The Other One” is a majestic addition to Threadgill’s discography, but its film version deserves a wider airing, too. It captures his sense of humor, which tended to emerge during this show whenever he was discussing photographs that he took of possessions abandoned in New York City streets early in the pandemic. He is currently sending the documentary to various festivals, he said, “to see what kind of credits we can pick up.”

Other projects in the works, as ever, seem bound to have an unconventional slant. Threadgill said that he has been impressed by the strides that collaborators and acquaintances like Anthony Davis and Terence Blanchard have had in mainstream opera, a world he says isn’t really for him.

Instead, Threadgill is planning what he called a “corrupted oratorio,” featuring two choirs: “a traditional choir and a gospel choir,” plus piano and organ, and other instruments as it develops. “I don’t like preconceived forms, you know?” he said. “I like to create new forms.”

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