Henry Threadgill’s Society Situation Dance Band, Live 1988:

After a few years in New York, during a time when Threadgill was playing local gigs with relative frequency, I’d developed a sort of fanaticism generally reserved for rock fandom. And Threadgill was rewarding my love. Make a Move, his working band of the ’90s, was loud and proud, and near decade’s end exploded in an outdoor tent during the Knitting Factory’s What is Jazz? Festival, becoming the core of an 18-piece band. Me and my fanboy friends had heard about his Society Situation Dance Band for years. It’s always the curse: if you live in Chicago, everything happens in New York. If you live in New York, everything happens in Europe. But there it was, in front of us at last.

Two things remain with me from that concert: Amina Claudine Myers’s seriously low-down blues, and two saxophone solos that were positively revelatory. John Stubblefield’s playing I knew well. Booker T. not at all. But both of their solos were recognizable as Threadgill music. The man himself was conducting, not playing, but his sax wasn’t missed. Hearing these other two horns was the first time I realized that playing Henry Threadgill’s music must not be quite the same thing as playing jazz.

A recording from Hamburg a decade earlier helps to fill in the memory gaps. This was a dance band. This was social music. Polyrhythmic and multi-varied, but approachable. The Hamburg set also included a surprising r’n’b number, a midtempo ballad that might be sung by Myers and Lacy. It’s not a great song, but (assuming it’s his) it’s one of the loneliest anomalies in the Threadgill catalogue.

Threadgill had said that he wanted his Society Situation Dance Band to be a live experience, a sort of party band. It’s rare that I lament someone not making more live records, but there are too many unpreserved fruits in Threadgill’s past.

[The full text of this article by Kurt Gottschalk is included in Burning Ambulance #1, available now.]

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