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Composer and woodwind player Henry Threadgill won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2015 masterpiece In for a Penny, In for a Pound, featuring his longest running group, Zooid. Poof is his first release since then with the same quintet. In the intervening years, Threadgill had recorded with other superb ensembles yet, unsurprisingly, he sounds most at home in current company.
The collaborative performances are a dynamic blend of the composed and improvised within a tense and intimate ambience. The title track starts with each musician contributing brief and poignant melodic fragments. Gradually these coalesce into a crystalline backdrop against which Threadgill blows melancholic and serpentine lines on alto sax. Guitarist Liberty Ellman and cellist Christopher Hoffman echo the leader, while drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee contributes sparse rustles and beats to a haunting effect.
Similarly, “Happenstance” is somber and cinematic with a Zen mood. Ellman fills his solo with electrifying spontaneity and Western classical motifs. Threadgill and Hoffman engage in a contemplative and lyrical duet while tuba player Jose Davila lays down darkly percolating refrains. Kavee’s various chimes enhance the exalted serenity of the piece and his thunderous rumble endows it with a primal spirituality.
Davila switches to trombone on the soulful “Beneath the Bottom.” His intelligent and eloquent soliloquy adds a delightful angularity to the tune while the textured rhythmic flourishes contribute to its mysticism. Over this dramatic interplay, Threadgill’s breathy and muscular flute soars with a wistful and reserved passion while his saxophone wails with bittersweet tones.
Given the stylistic similarities and shared personnel between Poof and its acclaimed predecessor, gauging this album against the prior one is inevitable. Poof’s conceptual originality and the ensemble’s seamless camaraderie ensure that it stands, not as a companion disc, but as a brilliant work in its own right.