Pyeng Threadgill
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"Sweet Home, the music of Robert Johnson"

Pyeng Threadgill | Random Chance Records
About halfway through the nine-minute “Come on in My Kitchen,” the listener will realize that Pyeng Threadgill’s hommage to Robert Johnson, Sweet Home, is not simply a Cassandra Wilson knock off. In fact, it should come as quite an epiphany that this recording is something very rare and special. Johnson’s tome of longing is transformed, in turn, from a ‘40s girls' ensemble piece into a funeral dirge dominated by Threadgill’s elastic voice, Kevin Louis’ trumpet and the mourning piano of Dave Pier. That is followed by a trombone-trumpet-voice Monteverdi polyphonic madrigal that flows into a New Orleans gumbo gospel vamp, spearheaded by the trombone and then the full band, replete with muted trumpet. After that, the closer, “Ramblin’ on my Mind,” sounds almost down right pedestrian until one realizes that this is the most typical blues form on the record… and that is really saying something.


Pyeng Threadgill is the daughter of saxophonist Henry Threadgill, long associated with the Chicago avant garde scene. His beautiful and creative spawn has made a record of such fearless daring and crystalline invention that this may be the most effective tribute to the Phantom yet digitally applied. In these 70 minutes, Miss Threadgill and her able band deconstruct and reconstruct the heart of the Johnson canon. Instant kudos to her for covering “Phonograph Blues”; even with its shaky gender center, the song remains one of the greatest double entendres committed to record. “Dead Shrimp” contains what one would thinks is a perfect Latin vamp, but sounds more other-worldly with each listen.


It is a bit too early to tell, but this very well may be the best recording of 2004 to come my way.

- All About Jazz


"Sweet Home,the music of Robert Johnson"

Sweet Home: The Music Of Robert Johnson
Pyeng Threadgill (Random Chance - USA - 2004)
Enrico Bettinello


Una spira di fumo saliva verso la luce livida della lampada...

- Devo ammettere, miss Threadgill - il commissario passeggiava nervosamente per la stanza, grattandosi il mento quasi a simboleggiare il proprio stupore - che lei ha avuto un gran bel coraggio! Maneggiare quei due nomi sarebbe stato pericoloso per chiunque! -

I flash dei pochi fotografi che aspettavano sotto il comando di polizia e lo sguardo di qualche curioso accompagnarono i ricci scuri e il sorriso malinconico della ragazza fino al margine della strada e la videro scomparire... nessuno disse nulla, ma i meno giovani non ricordavano affatto che in quel punto ci fosse un incrocio di quattro strade...


Così si chiude - con una piena assoluzione e un pizzico di mistero - la vicenda di Pyeng Threadgill, non solo scagionata dall'accusa di avere "maneggiato" due nomi molto rischiosi, ma uscita pienamente vincente da questa sua prima avventura discografica.

Già, perché non è proprio semplice essere figlie di Henry Threadgill e debuttare con un disco interamente dedicato ai brani di Robert Johnson! O meglio, nell'avvilente scenario dello spettacolo globalizzato la cosa potrebbe essere all'ordine del giorno, sfruttare un cognome famoso e omaggiare qualcuno di ancora più famoso, ma all'interno della musica afroamericana evidentemente il rispetto ha ancora un suo certo peso...

Sweet Home è infatti un disco riuscito e coinvolgente: dall'ascendenza paterna, Pyeng eredita la parte migliore, l'arte di come dialogare con la tradizione nera e coglierne l'essenza per riproporla rinnovata e ricca di nuovi interrogativi. Henry Threadgill lo ha fatto lungo tutta la carriera [ricordiamo le splendide riletture di Scott Joplin e Jelly Roll Morton con il trio Air o l'indimenticabile Rag, Bush and All], Pyeng ci prova oggi con il blues di Robert Johnson.

Dalla sua ci sono una band affiatata e flessibile [in cui spiccano la tromba di Kevin Louis e l'ottimo Dana Leong a trombone e violoncello], un'attitudine fresca che coglie in ogni singolo brano gli elementi su cui sviluppare le idee, l'adesione timbrica [con corde e ottoni in evidenza] a un suono terreno e sensuale.

Si parte con "Love In Vain Blues": laddove l'addio ferroviario di Johnson è malinconico e rassegnato, la Threadgill gioca invece su corde più sensuali, sfruttando il crescendo strumentale [ottima la tromba sordinata] per supportare la compostezza del canto.

Elettrico e incalzante è "Phonograph Blues", mentre "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" vola tra battiti di mani e chitarra e "Milkcow's Calf Blues" si avvolge rispettosamente in una spirale blues in cui echeggiano i lamenti di tromba e trombone.

Nella rapida presentazione del disco, la cantante sottolinea come a colpirla sia l'attualità dei sentimenti e delle esigenze che emergono dalle parole di Johnson, l'umanità che risuona ancora nello spirito della gente nera e l'intimità di "When You Got A Good Friend", racchiusa tra la voce e il violoncello lo dimostra con semplicità.

La seconda parte di questo lavoro vive di momenti in cui la riflessione è rivolta al recupero di sentimenti collettivi - il moltiplicarsi delle voci di "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom", solo apparentemente leggero oppure la sottile elettricità di "Dead Shrimp Blues", punteggiata dai fiati - e trova in episodi come "They're Red Hot" [che già nell'originale è di scintillante modernità] o la celeberrima "Sweet Home Chicago" i luoghi - anche parecchio distanti l'uno dall'altro - per immettere idee ritmiche e timbriche fresche e avvincenti.

Gli oltre nove minuti di "Come On In My Kitchen" sono uno splendido viaggio nella sensualità: sul pigro ribattere degli accordi del pianoforte, la Threadgill e Leong - al trombone - stendono un percorso melodico struggente e quasi funereo, che risolve in un impasto di linee melodiche che si rincorrono sospeso e quasi classicheggiante. Impastato di fango e di emozione, il brano rotola poi con magia dentro a un blues nitido scandito dal gruppo al completo, con basso, batteria e la tromba. Il punto più alto del disco.

Si chiude più tradizionalmente con "Ramblin' On My Mind", quasi a chiudere idealmente il cerchio di un percorso in cui il fantasma di Robert Johnson appare nei punti meno scontati.

Sweet Home è un disco davvero interessante, che si potrebbe superficialmente accostare ai recenti lavori di Cassandra Wilson, ma che in realtà assume un punto di vista molto più interessante: laddove la Wilson infatti si circonda di un'atmosfera "sudista" e "sudata" a far risaltare ancora di più le sue fenomenali qualità di interprete, la Threadgill [che da un punto di vista strettamente vocale è brava, ma non ne fa il punto di forza] preferisce riproporre la lezione di Johnson con grande parsimonia dal punto di vista del canto, lasciando che siano piuttosto gli arrangiamenti a definire di volta in volta il clima della canzone, quasi lasciando che l'attualità del messaggio del grande bluesman attraversi la semplicità della vita di tutti i giorni e torni nel cuore della gente nera [ma non solo quella] a accendersi nella sua struggente lotta con il destino e la vita.

Valutazione: * * * *

Sito di Pyeng Threadgill:
www.pyeng.com
Sito della Random Chance:
www.randomchancerecords.com

Elenco dei brani:
01. Love in Vain Blues (Johnson) - 4:36
02. Phonograph Blues (Johnson) - 3:34
03. Last Fair Deal Gone Down (Johnson) - 3:55
04. Milkcow's Calf Blues (Johnson) - 4:06
05. When You Got a Good Friend (Johnson) - 3:23
06. I Believe I'll Dust My Broom (Johnson) - 3:10
07. Dead Shrimp (Johnson) - 6:08
08. They're Red Hot (Johnson) - 3:09
09. Sweet Home Chicago (Johnson) - 3:47
10. Come on in My Kitchen (Johnson) - 9:10
11. Ramblin' on My Mind (Johnson) - 5:33


Musicisti:
Pyeng Threadgill (voce)
Dana Leong (trombone, basso, violoncello)
Ryan Scott (chitarre, cori)
Kevin Louis (tromba)
Dave Pier (piano)
Dimitri Mordebacher (clarinetto)
Qasim Natvi (batteria, percussioni)
Laura Johnson, Sachal Vasandani, Sybil Rolle (cori)
Bill Coleman, Jacob Bronstein (sequencer, programmazione)



- All About Jazz Italia


"Pyeng Threadgill"

Sweet Home: the Music of Robert Johnson
Pyeng Threadgill
Random Chance Records
Review by Thom Jurek
Singer and arranger Pyeng Threadgill is the daughter of composer, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill and choreographer/dancer Christina Jones, a founding member of the celebrated Urban Bushwomen. Sweet Home offers 11 Robert Johnson tunes in 11 different settings. While more cynical punters and blues purists (ugh) may sigh or wring their hands at such a notion, everyone else can take delight in Threadgill's considerable accomplishment. Unlike mere revivalists like Eric Clapton or Peter Green, Threadgill hears and interprets Johnson's blues as music not of, but for the ages.
Certainly she has models here, most notably Cassandra Wilson and Olu Dara, but Threadgill's take on these tunes doesn't attempt to remake them in her image, so much their own. Sweet Home's selections are radical. They take Johnson's songs and strips them of the interpetive, anachronistic baggage that has all but killed the spooky and hedonistic majesty of the originals at the hands of well-meaning but woefully rigid performers.
First there's the edgy, swinging jazz read of "Love in Vain," followed by the lean, ragged funk of "Phonograph Blues." The swampy acoustic guitar-and-brass blues of "Milk Cow Calf's Blues" is a nod to earlier times, but feels more like it's being performed in busker style on the lawn of Thompkins Square Park. The lone cello accompaniment (played elegantly by Dana Leong) on "If You've Got a Good Friend" evokes the dignified spirit, if not the timbre, of Nina Simone's ghost, and the jazzed-out, near scatted take on "Dust My Broom," where Threadgill is accompanied only by a double bass and a trap kit, offers the startling—and sometimes hair—raisin—originality of her approach. Likewise the tension between second-line New Orleans rhythms at the heart of "Sweet Home Chicago," where jagged jazz-rock guitar fills are held expertly in the tense grain of Threadgill's voice is jarring, perhaps, but far from unwelcome. She croons, swoons, shouts, growls, whoops, and moans to get these blues across proving in the process that in the current era, these tunes that are enduring to be sure, but they continue to hold a cryptic mystique; they are still alluring because they can be articulated in so many different contexts and retain their seductive power and jagged grace. Threadgill's recorded debut is an auspicious one. She paints her blues shiny black and pushes them headlong into a future where tradition and history are processes of evolution, not quaint curiosities.

- All Music Guide


"Sweet Home"

ONE FINAL NOTE www.onefinalnote.com Pyeng Threadgill Sweet Home : the Music Of Robert Johnson (Random Chance) by John Chacona 2 June 2004 Hmmm. Hip reworkings of old blues tunes, unusual instrumentation, cover shot with railroad tracks in the background... and then there's the connection with you know who. But just to get this out of the way, Pyeng Threadgill doesn't seem to be taking aim at Cassandra Wilson. Nor does she merely parrot Norah Jones' languid, lazy-afternoon vibe. For one thing, Threadgill has a very different sort of voice. It's lighter, lies higher, and likes to engage the rhythm more. There's an energy to her singing that likes to hug the quicker tempos, and she has the sort of fast vibrato that gave singers like Bessie Smith (and for that matter, Johnson himself) a fizzy edge. It's a voice that's not unsuited to the material—twelve Robert Johnson songs cast in arrangements that have an ear for unusual sonorities (lots of cellos and trombones here, mostly played by Dana Leong, borrowed from dad Henry's band for the occasion) and rhythms. She's witty, too, adding a slight smudge of 78-era surface noise to the looped beat of "Phonograph Blues" and a couple of mooing trombones to "Milkcow's Calf Blues". A couple of the cuts even sound radio-ready; "Hot Tamales", here retitled "They're Red Hot", wouldn't be out of place on a Macy Gray record. Threadgill produced this CD and she maintains her focus until a wayward "Come On In My Kitchen" (ironically, a song also covered by Wilson). But she finishes with a strong, rootsy performance of "Rambling On My Mind". It's an auspicious debut for an artist with a point of view and the chops to bring it to life. URL: http://www.onefinalnote.com/reviews/t/threadgill-pyeng/sweet-home.asp - One Final Note


"Pyeng Threadgill"

Sweet Home: the Music of Robert Johnson
Pyeng Threadgill
Random Chance Records
It must be in the genes. How else can you explain Sweet Home: The Music of Robert Johnson (Random Chance), the adventurous debut from singer-songwriter Pyeng Threadgill? The daughter of jazz explorer Henry Threadgill and Christina Jones, the celebrated dance choreographer and founding member of the Urban Bush Women, Threadgill unearths the sultriness, melancholy and ebullience of Johnson's Delta blues and remodels his music for the 21st century.

Like her father, Threadgill has an ear of experimental instrumentation. Rick Congress, owner of Random Chance, heard Threadgill and cellist Dana Leong perform at a mutual friend's birthday party, and soon after he approached the singer about doing the project. "He originally just wanted me to do just cello and voice," Threadgill says. "But I wanted to use all kinds of different instrumentations." On Sweet Home, she uses acoustic guitars, naturally, but she peppers the soundscapes with cello, trumpet, trombones and subtle electronic embellishments.

Threadgill also shares her father's gift for recontexualization as demonstrated by her reggae-flavored take on "Love in Vain Blues" or the boom-bap bounce that propels "Phonograph Blues." Elsewhere, Threadgill infuses elements of jazz, funk, R&B and Afro-Cuban music into Johnson's blues. "I wanted each song to be different," she says. "Otherwise what would be the point?"

Still, Threadgill insists that her mother's work with the Urban Bush Women had a more explicit influence than her father's music. The intoxicating "Last Fair Deal Gone Down," which employs a staccato, syncopated rhythm derived from an 18th-century African-American ring-shout, came directly from observing the Urban Bush Women. "I wouldn't even know what a ring-shout was had it not been for them," Threadgill says. Traditionally, broomsticks produced the ring-shout's defining rhythm, but Threadgill's arrangement uses percussion, guitar and handclaps-plus a little something extra. Although she initially wanted to use the same broomstick-derived beats for this recording, Threadgill couldn't produce the correct sound. "Eventually, we used a ladder," she laughs. "That's me, banging the ladder on the floor to generate the rhythm." Now, how Threadgill-ish is that?

review by John Murph
Review Published: August 1, 2004

- Jazz Times


Discography

Sweet Home, The Music of Robert Johnson is her debut CD. It has had extensive airplay on blues and jazz radio in the USA, Canada,Austrailia, France, and other European countries. She has been featured on XM Satellite radio's Bluesville program.

Photos

Bio

Pyeng Threadgill grew up with avant garde jazz and African rhythms with her father being free-jazz great Henry Threadgill and her mother, Christina Jones, being a founder of the Urban Bushwomen. She had a degree in Music from Oberlin Conservatory and is a music educator as well as a composer and performer. She has a strong bent towards intimate soul and blues styles that make one think of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone.