Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Steve Lacy feelings are in the blog-air, as John Carter ruminations were some time ago. And this can't not be good. Latest issue of Bill Shoemaker's outstanding weblication Point of Depature is all Lacy, all the time. Former Lacy pupil Josh Sinton's Ideal Bread band is giving Steve the full-on School Days-style repertory treatment and doing a hell of a job (published review of this effort coming soon; in the meantime go see I.B. May 13 at Zebulon, or possibly at another location due to fire recovery). I humbly keep the ball in the air with a trio of Lacy MP3s, all of them... slow?

Steve Lacy - Ugly Beauty
Lacy - soprano sax, Steve Potts - alto sax, Bobby Few - piano, Jean-Jacques Avenel - bass, Oliver Johnson - drums

Steve Lacy - Forgetful
Lacy - soprano sax, Few - piano

both from The Door, recorded July '88

Steve Lacy - Gloompot
Lacy - soprano sax

from Sands, recorded early '98

Lacy's discography is oceanic and demands careful, prolonged consideration. Having listened obsessively for over ten years, I feel like I'm like a third of the way to really getting my head around it. The Senators site, maintained by the late saxist's ultradevoted fangroup, is a huge help, once you figure out how to navigate it. (Hint: try clicking "Listen" at the bottom and then access the Interactive Discography and play around with it; a real trove of info.)

Anyway, there are a thousand ways in. Lacy's most sustained bodies of work were solo works, which he pursued from the early '70s onward, and works with the small groups he led from the late '70s through the early '90s. The latter outfits featured folks such as the outstandingly piquant-toned and way-underrated and still-very-much-alive-and-well saxist Steve Potts; the godly pianist Bobby Few, also still making it happen (he's playing with Sonny Simmons at The Vision Festival this summer!); the eccentric and controversial yet quite fascinating singer and string player Irene Aebi; the fantastically nimble and full-toned bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel, another lifelong Lacy acolyte; and drummers Oliver Johnson--RIP to this INSANE INSANE talent--and John Betsch.

Despite the huge number of records with these two configurations, a lot of folks seems to gravitate to the work Lacy did outside these contexts. This is understandable--in short, the solo stuff can be hard to crack and the strong presence of Aebi in the sextet can be an *initial* turn-off. But it's a huge mistake to let these prickles deter you. (See this very frustrating Lacy bio for a typically loutish reading of the discography, wherein claims are made that the awesome 1983 disc Blinks succeeds "despite Aebi's vocals" and that 1979's Capers (partially reissued as N.Y. Capers and Quirks, which, incidentally is covered in full on the Ideal Bread disc I mentioned above) "was better than any of the quintet/sextet recordings.") Pardon me, but this is all bullshit. Capers, a trio with bassist Ronnie Boykins and drummer Denis Charles, is insanely great, as is another discographical anomaly, 1976's stone-cold epochal Trickles session with trombonist Roswell Rudd, bassist Kent Carter and drummer Beaver Harris (interestingly, I.B. also hits up the title track to this sesh). BUT, these should in no way be seen as better than the sextet--or "lit-jazz," if you will--stuff simply because they're more easily accessible from a "purist" free-jazz standpoint.

I don't really have time to make the case for Aebi here, though I will say that I've really come to enjoy the sessions where she's featured, especially when I can read along with the lyrics, as on The Beat Suite, an excellent 2003 disc w/ the mighty George Lewis on trombone. I will say, though, that the sextet works in general blow my mind, especially the sterling mid-'80s run that includes 1986's The Gleam on Silkheart, 1987's Momentum on Novus, and 1988's The Door (sample-able above), also on Novus. These are gorgeous, essential, all-time-great jazz recordings and, of course, way uneasy to obtain. The Gleam can actually still be picked up direct from Silkheart here, but I don't have the slightest idea where to get the others; I actually have them on cassette tape, which kind of rules, except that those versions omit tracks that appeared on the CD releases.

Few, Potts, Avenel and Johnson absolutely shine on these records. They can really COOK when necessary (try the title track from Momentum, for one, or The Door's version of "Blinks," for another), but they can also lay back and luxuriate in pure feeling. That's what's going on on "Ugly Beauty" above. A little-heard Monk tune, treated with pillowy grace and laid-back zest. The solos. On this track. All Make. So. Much. Impassioned. Sense!

It is impossible to be forgetful of "Forgetful." Just Lacy, with his curved, sublimated honk, and Few's wrenching space-soul on the keys. Didn't know this standard before, but there is an outstanding Chet Baker version you can hunt down. Few's heartstring knife-twist at 6:00 is one of the most gut-punching moments in the entirety of jazz.

"Gloompot." From a weird, weird album released on John Zorn's Tzadik label, and more specifically, as part of the Radical Jewish Culture Series. Zorn seemingly shoehorned Lacy into the latter categorically--originally Steve Lackritz, Lacy was a Semite, though a lapsed one, by his own admission. Apparently the Lacy-penned liners state, fascinatingly, "I am a Jewgitive." Would love to read them in full, but I don't own the actual disc. Anyone? Anyway, this is an exquisite example of a capella Lacy. The lines just extend and extend, buoyed by weightless breaths, plummeting curlicues and soft-mouthed, faux-short-breathed, meticulously clumsy expulsions. Again, the sublimation of honk. Who the hell was this guy?

1 comment:

j. sinton said...

Thanks for the shout-out Hank.

I would just add this to your list of records:

The Way - same year as "N.Y. Capers & Quirks" but with Lacy's regular band at the time (Potts, Aebi, Carter and Johnson). To me, it's one of the great, great creative music records of that decade. Also, it's one of the last records Kent Carter appears on. The band had reached a creative plateau that was at least 10 years in the making on this one. HatArt reissued it not too long ago.

Troubles - From the same band, same year. Check out "Wasted." Honestly, if one listens to Irene Aebi without expectation (i.e. with compassion) she is astounding. She's not a jazz singer (and she's never claimed to be one) but who cares? What she does is utterly unique and utterly 'right' for the music. This one was released on Black Saint and occasionally makes the rounds in used CD stores.

thanks for focusing on some of Steve's most sublime and intense work. I think in his later years Steve could get pretty frustrated that he was 'only' being hired to do so solo shows of Monk tunes when so much of his time, energy and LOVE was going into this group and his writing for it.