Air Lore


The Last Whoopee Cushion Squawk Before Orthodoxy Set In

This head-swiveling assault on jazz history was recorded in May 1979, not exactly a high time for jazz. Yet it documents a creative peak: Here are three wise and accomplished members of the free-jazz community discovering the tremendous symmetry at work inside Scott Joplin's ragtime follies and the early blues of Jelly Roll Morton. Then, having observed and celebrated those qualities, the three—saxophonist Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins, and drummer Steve McCall—go toddling around like cartoon characters in a chase scene. They bash the tunes with billowing gales and squawks, short detours into thundering funk, sudden stop-time breaks, and expansive solos.

What happens two minutes into "Buddy Bolden's Blues" is characteristic: As Threadgill begins his alto solo, the ambling parade rhythm evaporates, replaced by triple-fast bebop. Nobody misses a beat as Bolden is propelled a few decades into the future.

Air Lore is jazz as living breathing music, in which old ideas from sixty or more years back help to fertilize radical new approaches. Shortly after this album's release, that recycling—which is crucial to jazz and present throughout its evolution—got twisted around by the "new traditionalists." These young musicians scorned free jazz, ridiculed its practitioners, and championed a narrow definition of the music. It's likely they never really listened to this timeline-trampling, back-to-the-future experiment, which reminds that before it became a cultural preservation project, jazz was fun.

Genre: Jazz
Released: 1979, Arista/Novus
Key Tracks: "The Ragtime Dance," "Buddy Bolden's Blues," "Weeping Willow Rag"
Catalog Choice: Live Air
Next Stop: Charles Mingus: Blues and Roots
After That: Henry Threadgill: Too Much Sugar for a Dime
Book Page: 13

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#1 from David Meredith, Kentucky - 10/21/2008 10:56

Can’t seem to find this one for sale anywhere….

#2 from Chris M, Oslo, Norway - 10/22/2008 2:02


the album has been out of print for quite some time. The easist way to try and get a copy is to try for vinyl copies (‘though the occasional CD is available too). It’s a crying shame that such a great record is no longer available.

#3 from Tom Moon - 10/24/2008 7:18

I’ve seen all the Air records on Arista/Novus for sale on the used market. sometimes Amazon’s “Used and New,” or, or ebay itself.

During research for the book, I asked people at the label about this title and was advised that a reissue was a “longshot.”

Good luck!


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