The most powerful storm I’ve ever seen was at the Big Bend National Park in the isolated elbow of Texas. A tremendous set of clouds marched toward our site in the valley between desert mountains, catching on a ridge and letting loose in safe viewing distance. Unable to look away from such a gorgeous thing, there was a deference to the power, too — a fear of what it might be capable of.
Part of The Jazz Gallery‘s 20th anniversary series, reedist Henry Threadgill, pianist Vijay Iyer, and drummer Dafnis Prieto evoked a similar atavistic feeling this past Saturday night. The trio blasted in a storm of rhythm, with Threadgill’s voice serving as the violent wind. In tandem, Iyer and Prieto evoked a brooding landscape, as intricate as it was expansive.
Threadgill, trading between a bass flute and alto sax, put his career’s long dynamism on display. A departure from Threadgill’s horn and string-influenced Zooid collaborations, the Z-aesthetic still rang through the evening. A zooid is a cell that has independence within a larger organism. Applied to improvisation, that balance of independence and communication emerges in any work of the masterful Creative Musician.
Though Threadgill was nominally the marquee name, the performance was very much an Iyer and Prieto joint. On the black baby grand, Iyer opened the show with a soft textural feel, as Prieto blurred the distinction between the instruments on light ride hits. Iyer, always a rhythmic innovator, began the second tune with a thuddy, almost prepared-tone from his keyboard, slowly changing to a Reich-repeated riff and a piano run fit for Vince Guaraldi and Charlie Brown.
It was a stunning pairing in the rhythm section, a shared understanding of texture and time. Capable of immense sound and weight, both MacArthur recipients thrive in quiet settings. It’s not a still softness in this pairing, but a jarring presence to their restraint.