New York's white soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, born Steven Lackritz (1934), was
the musician who restored that instrument to its original
glory, and then raised it to an almost fetishist status.
Coached by Cecil Taylor (1955-57) and Gil Evans (1957-64), and heavily
influenced by Thelonious Monk, Lacy declared his allegiance to him while
proclaiming the advent of a new soprano era on a series of quartet recordings
mainly or entirely devoted to Monk Compositions:
Soprano Today (november 1957), with Wynton Kelly on piano,
Reflections (october 1958), with Mal Waldron on piano and Elvin Jones on drums,
Evidence (november 1959), with Don Cherry on trumpet and Billy Higgins on drums,
Straight Horn (november 1960), with a baritone saxophonist and Roy Haynes on drums,
School Days (march 1963), with Roswell Rudd on trombone and Henry Grimes on bass.
None of these quartets was particularly exciting or innovative, except for
the fact that Lacy was interpreting the classics (Monk above the others)
playing a soprano saxophone.
Perhaps inspired by the collaborations with Michael Mantler's various
the first original Lacy compositions surfaced on Disposability (december 1965)
that was also his first trio recording.
Then came the conversion to free jazz and Sortie (february 1966), another quartet session (with Enrico
Rava on trumpet) that this time was entirely composed by Lacy and included lengthy
meditations such as Sortie, Black Elk and Fork New York.
The Forest And The Zoo (october 1966), featuring Rava, Southafrican bassist Johnny Dyani and Southafrican drummer
Louis Moholo, contained only two side-long free-jazz pieces,
The Forest And The Zoo.
In 1969 Lacy relocated to Paris.
After the 41-minute improvisation Roba (june 1969) with an Italian sextet
featuring trumpet (Rava), clarinet, trombone, cello (Irene Aebi) and drums,
Moon (september 1969) with an Italian sextet that replaced the trumpet with a bass,
yet another Monk tribute, namely Epistrophy (september 1969),
and the live Wordless (january 1971) for a quintet with trumpet, cello, bass and drums (Existence, The Breath), a new major season began,
Lacy cut his first solo saxophone album, Lapis (september 1971), containing the eleven-minute three-movement suite Three Pieces From Tao, the seven-minute The Precipitation Suite and Lapis.
Lacy's postmodernist strategy was still embryonic but already captivating, with
a passion for extra-musical noises as well as fragments of singalongs and
nursery rhymes to weave intricate tapestries of harmony.
After another quartet session, Journey Without End (november 1971), with Mal Waldron on piano (that debuted I Feel A Draft and Bone), Lacy formed a quintet (with Steve Potts' alto, cello, bass and drums) for The Gap (may 1972), that contained another free-jazz juggernaut, the
19-minute The Thing. Waldron joined the Quintet for one album,
Mal Waldron with the Steve Lacy Quintet (may 1972), one side of which was taken up
by Waldron's Vio.
A second Concert Solo (august 1972), with definitive versions of
Stations, Weal and New Duck, preceded the recording of the
30-minute four-movement anti-war suite The Woe (january 1973),
scored for a quintet with alto, cello, bass and drums, and released only three years later (and now incorporating The Wane).
After Flaps (april 1973) in a quintet with trumpeter Franz Koglmann,
and The Crust (july 1973) in a quintet with alto (Potts), guitar (Derek Bailey), bass and percussion (38, Flakes, The Crust),
came the sextet of Scraps (february 1974), featuring Potts' saxophones,
piano, Aebi's cello, bass and percussion, another zenith of Lacy's free-jazz style
(Torments, Ladies, Scraps and vocals by Aebi).
A similar sextet cut Flakes (may 1974), with The Shoals,
The sax-bass-drums trio of Stalks (june 1975) indulged in the lengthy Stalks and Moon.
The sextet turned out to be Lacy's ideal format. It allowed him to create pieces
of music that were chaotic puzzles of distorted elementary ideas, and it
allowed him to run the gamut from
the tonal to the cacophonous, from old-fashioned to free-jazz.
Lacy was ready for another major flight of the imagination,
Saxophone Special (december 1974), for a different kind of sextet, first of all because it featured four saxophonists (altoists Trevor Watts and Steve Potts and tenorist Evan Parker) and secondly because it surrounded them not with a rhythm section but with Derek Bailey's dissonant free-form guitar and Michel Waisvisz's synthesizer.
It was, after all, the year of the saxophone quartet (Anthony Braxton's New York Fall 1974 and the World Saxophone Quartet).
Staples was the manifesto of the sextet's twisted counterpoint,
Dreams even featured Lacy on turntable,
Sops was scored for saxophones-only (three sopranos and Parker's tenor and no guitar or electronics),
Snaps had Parker on soprano.
Bailey was added to the regular Sextet for Dreams (may 1975), a set that
displayed an even greater degree of schizophrenia. The impressionistic chamber
jazz of the quintet in pieces such as The Oil
was devastated by Bailey's abstract doodling and both
were neutralized by Lacy's irrational conversations.
One of the most prolific musicians of all times, Lacy inevitably dispersed
his ideas across too many recordings (that often repeated the same themes
in different settings).
A quintet with Potts and Aebi reprised The Crust and debuted The Duck and Esteem on Esteem (february 1975).
Recorded at La Cour des Miracles, Paris on 26 February 1975
A Japanese sextet recorded The Wire (june 1975), that debuted Dead Line.
Solo At Mandara (june 1975) debuted Snips and Stabs.
Again, one of Lacy's most radical pieces, the 20-minute improvisation
Distant Voices, appeared on a trio album
(Yuji Takahashi on piano, celesta and vibraphone,
Takehisa Kosugi on violin, flute and vocals),
Distant Voices (june 1975).
Three solo-saxophone sets,
Torments (june 1975),
the two-LP Axieme Vol 1 & 2 (september 1975) and
Stabs (november 1975),
demonstrated the agility of his technique with eccentric pieces such as
Deadline and Coastline (on Axieme)
and The Duck, No Baby and Stabs (on the third set), besides
recycling old compositions (particularly an improved Tao Suite).
Clangs (february 1976) was a duet with Italian percussionist Andrea
Centazzo: Lacy played birds calls, pocket synthesizer and crackle box
besides his soprano saxophone in creative pieces such as
The Owl and Torments.
Trickles (march 1976) reunited Lacy with Rudd, but this time on a program of Lacy originals (Trickles and Robes).
The piano-sax duo Sidelines (september 1976) debuted Sideline and Worms.
The solo Straws (november 1976) included the electronic The Rise.
A quartet with Potts recorded Raps (january 1977), that included
Stamps, Raps, a lengthy version of No Baby and especially Blinks.
Threads (may 1977) contained the 11-minute solos Skirts and Threads as well as three brief trios with avantgarde composers Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzewski.
A quartet with Michael Waisvisz on synthesizer, bassist Maarten Van Regteren Altena and percussionist Han Bennink debuted Chops on Lumps (september 1974) and revisited other Lacy originals (Torments, Snips).
The Owl (april 1977) contained the three-part The Owl Touchstones, that augmented the Sextet with piano, kora and cornet (Butch Morris).
The live solo Clinkers (june 1977) debuted Clinkers.
A trio with Masa Kwate on Japanese percussion and Irene Aebi on voice and violin recorded Shots (october 1977).
Irene Aebi was also featured (with altoist Steve Potts) on
Tips (december 1979).
The double-disc set Cycles (1976-80) (december 1980) documents twenty "solo soprano sax performances" recorded live and studio.
Among the many duo albums, one stands out: High Low and Order (december 1978) with bassist Maarten Van Regteren Altena.
Points (february 1978) debuted the "three points" (the saxophone duos
Free Points and Still Point and the solo Moot Point).
Lost In June (april 1977) documents a live performance by Steve Lacy (soprano sax), Kent Carter (double bass) and Andrea Centazzo (drums set and percussion).
With the sextet paired down to a quintet,
Lacy recorded the live Stamps (february 1978), containing
extended performances of new pieces such as
Ire, The Dumps, Duckles and especially Wickets,
Troubles (may 1979), with Wasted and Blues.
and the live The Way (january 1979), that delivered a 26-minute
version of Tao.
But the live trio Capers (december 1979) was better than any of the
quintet/sextet recordings. The music was literally overflowing from the
extended meditations of
The sextet used Aebi's vocals too often, e.g. on Songs (january 1981),
and on the two ambitious 40-minute Ballets (april 1981), Hedges (1980) and The Four Edges (1981).
One more time, a trio recording, Flame (january 1982), with The Match and The Flame, was more adventurous than most of the sextet recordings.
The best of the live duets with Mal Waldron was
Herbe De L'Oubli (august 1981), that contained
Lacy's Herbe De L'Oubli and Waldron's Hooray For Herbie,
the other collaborations between the two being albums of standards, although
Let's Call This (december 1981) also debuted Lacy's The Peak.
But even better was the duo with Japanese percussionist Masahiko Togashi,
Eternal Duo (october 1981), that debuted
Twilight and Retreat.
However, Lacy remained faithful to his sextet.
Blinks (february 1983) debuted
the 22-minute Clinches and Whammies besides delivering
definitive versions of Blinks, Wickets and Three Points
(despite Aebi's vocals).
Prospectus (november 1983), augmented with George Lewis' trombone,
revisited several of Lacy's classics (notably The Dumps and
Cliches in colossal versions).
Augmented with Lewis' trombone, harp and guitar, the sextet
recorded the music for Robert Creeley's poems on Futurities (january 1985).
Poems by other poets were scored on The Condor (june 1985) by the
Pared down to a soprano-alto quartet, they recorded the live
Morning Joy (february 1986) with
Morning Joy and As Usual.
The Gleam (july 1986) was an improvement, rich as it was of Lacy
originals (Gay Paree Bop, Napping, The Gleam, As Usual, Keepsake) and of exuberant interplay.
Reduced to a quartet with baritone saxophone, they crafted
Keepsake and One Fell Swoop on One Fell Swoop (june 1986).
Momentum (may 1987) by the full Sextet was perhaps the best of the decade, thanks to The Bath, The Gaze, Momentum and The Song.
In parallel, Lacy continued to experiment with humbler settings.
Deadline was reprised as the leitmotiv of
Deadline (march 1985), duets with pianist Ulrich Gumpert that also
included the new Art.
Duets with fellow soprano saxophonist Evan Parker yielded the 21-minute Full Scale, the 16-minute Relations (both a bit too academic) and the three-part Nocturnal Chirps on Chirps (july 1985).
At last, Lacy returned to the solo format for
Hocus Pocus (december 1985),
for Solo (december 1985), that had debuted The Gleam and Morning Joy,
for The Kiss (may 1986), with Blues for Aida,
and especially for
Outings (april 1986), structured into two 20-minute improvisations, Labyrinth and Island in which he overdubbed himself.
Spectacular versions of The Crust, Flakes and Wickets appeared on
Bura Bura (may 1986), for a stellar quartet with drummer Masahiko Togashi, trumpeter Don Cherry and bassist Dave Holland.
Another intriguing project was an Indian quartet with sitar, tabla and tampura,
that recorded Saxoraga and the 22-minute Explorations on
Explorations (april 1987).
The Window (july 1987) for trio added The Window and
A Complicate Scene to the Lacy canon.
Rushes (november 1989) set texts by Russian poets to the music of a trio
of saxophone, Frederic Rzewski's piano and Irene Aebi's voice.
Duets with his trusted alto saxophonist Steve Potts
yielded Flim-Flam and a 21-minute version of Three Points
on Flim-Flam (december 1986).
Anthem (june 1989) augmented the Sextet with trombone, percussion and a second vocalist. It debuted the funk-blues Number One and the ballad Prayer, and it put to (cinematic) music two more poems, Prelude And Anthem and The Mantle.
The Sextet's sound peaked with Live at Sweet Basil (july 1991),
that introduced The Bath and revisited
Morning Joy and Blinks.
In the 1990s
the ensemble kept growing. Itinerary (november 1990), that debuted
Sweet 16 and Itinerary, was performed by a 17-piece unit that
was much closer to classical music than to bebop or big-band jazz.
The seven jazz tributes of Vespers (july 1993) were performed by an octet that
was basically the Sextet plus tenor saxophone and French horn. As usual with
recordings centered around the sextet, these pieces were also sung by Aebi.
A double sextet re-recorded the entire Clangs (march 1992).
Sweet 16 (february 1993) was performed by a "Keptorchestra".
Lacy's new solo, Remains (april 1991), introduced the 18-minute Remains, but, more importantly, finalized his six-part Time of Tao-Cycle
(Existence, The Way, Bone, Name,
The Breath, Life On Its Way).
A collaboration with fellow British soprano saxophonists Evan Parker and
Lol Coxhill resulted in the lengthy improvised saxophone duets of
Three Blokes (september 1992), notably Broad Brush with Parker (23 minutes), Glanced with Coxhill (21 minutes) and The Crawl also with Parker.
The quartets derived from the sextet (without vocals) were often superior
to the sextet (with vocals), and Revenue (february 1993), that debuted
This Is It and reprised Esteem, proved that the rule still worked in the 1990s.
We See (september 1992), on the other hand, by the same quartet
plus trumpet and vibraphone, had been mostly Monk covers.
Packet (march 1995) was another set of poems performed by Lacy,
Aebi on vocals and Rzewski on piano.
Actuality (april 1995) was a solo performance, this time structured in
Five Facings (april 1996) collects live duets between Lacy and
Fred Van Hove).
When Lacy disbanded his sextet, the remaining pair of Jean-Jacques Avenel (acoustic bass) and John Betsch (drums) helped him record the double-CD The Rent (november 1997).
The Cry (march 1998) was a "jam opera" about a Muslim woman who had to flee Bangladesh, a victim of religious fanaticism, and used texts written by her (Irene Aebi on vocals, Tina Wrase on saxophones and bass clarinet, Catherine Pfeifer on accordion, Petia Kaufman on harpsichord plus bass and percussion).
The Beat Suite (december 2001) set beat poems to music with help from Lewis.
The vast majority of Lacy's albums presented new performances of old themes, a sign that Lacy considered music a perpetual process of refinement.
The double-disc Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd Quartet (june 1999 - Cuneiform, 2007) collected the last collaborations between the two.
documents the last Steve Lacy solo performance on soprano sax.
Lacy returned to the USA in 2002, but died of cancer
in 2004, at the age of 69.
At The New Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden 2002 (december 2002)
was a foray in electronic music leading a sextet with
Christof Kurzmann and Bernhard Lang on electronic keyboards,
bassist Peter Herbert and drummers Wolfgang Reisinger and Philip Jeck.
The Sun collects four sessions of antiwar music
mostly dating from 1968.
Avignon and After documents live dates from the 1970s,
including a solo version of Clangs (1974).
The live Last Tour (march 2004) documents the Steve Lacy Quintet with vocalist Irene Aebi, trombonist George Lewis, bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch.
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