The Whammies – Play the Music of Steve Lacy (Driff)
Steve Lacy – Estilhaços (Live in Lisbon) (Clean Feed)
Steve Lacy/Kent Carter/Andrea Centazzo – Lost in June (Ictus)
Maria Monti – Il Bestiario (featuring Alvin Curran + Steve Lacy) (Ri-Fi – Unseen Worlds)
In this music, legacies are an interesting thing. How are we to perceive/deal with the work of an esteemed musician/composer after their death? What is more important – the songbook or conjuring the ‘feeling’ of the absent artist? For a figure like soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy (1934-2004), whose work was both tuneful and open-ended and who saw himself in a lineage of figures liberating and extending the possibilities of form and improvisation, it’s tough to figure out the ‘right’ response.
Challenging as it might be, Lacy’s compositions are sometimes covered by others. In addition to the excellent New York quartet Ideal Bread, we can now add transatlantic group The Whammies to the list of repertory interpreters. The Whammies feature the saxophonist’s former students, collaborators and estimable contemporary improvisers – pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, altoist Jorrit Dijkstra, violinist/violist Mary Oliver, drummer Han Bennink, bassist Nate McBride and trombonist Jeb Bishop. Dijkstra is a searing and quixotic player; combined with the garrulous and fleet trombone of Bishop and Karayorgis’ blocky, motivic phrasing, the ensemble is knotty and swinging and hinges on a surprisingly tasteful Bennink. The Whammies are respectful yet calamitousin respect to Lacy’s ‘book’, which needs a bit of dirt under the fingernails to remain relevant.
One of Lacy’s grittiest recordings was the first LP waxed by his ‘70s quintet with cellist/violinist Irène Aebi, saxophonist Steve Potts, bassist Kent Carter and drummer Noel McGhie. Estilhaços (“shrapnel”) was recorded live on Feb. 29th, 1972 at the Cinema Monumental in Lisbon during a period of colonial war and crowning tensions between the Estado Novo regime and pro-democracy resistance. Potts was coming off work with François Tusques, Alan Silva and Sunny Murray and adds a crid explosiveness to a set that is more blistering than snippy or quirky, with the leader’s gold-toned soprano often closer to a thin scream of anguish, fitting in times of tumult. McGhie is an underrated percussionist, his dry and chatty propulsion giving the ensemble a jaunty ruggedness. Clean Feed has reissued this rare piece with decent fidelity and its attractive gatefold sleeve mimics the handsome original.
Lacy and Kent Carter were frequent collaboratorsfrom 1965-82, when the bassist’s student Jean-JacquesAvenel took over. Among their work together was a fine mid ‘70s trio with Italian percussionist Andrea Centazzo, first documented on the Ictus LP Trio Live (1976). Lost in June is a summer 1977 recording by the same group, a mono audience tape that was thought lost until recently and featuring a bevy of period Lacy compositions. Sure, it’s lo-fi but the music contained is incredible, extremely concentrated and methodical but quite unfettered on the gorgeous “Coastline” that opens the set, part of a suite titled “The 4 Edges”. This early version of the suite is elemental in structure, though one can feel its text-absent declarative lyricism and orchestral weight triangulated between the three musicians. Lost in June is an essential set from one of the more overlooked groups in Lacy’s discography.
Given Lacy’s interest in poetry and art song and the importance of Irène Aebi’s vocals in his art, it’s no surprise that he lent his instrumental accent to a variety of curious vocal-centric recordings, such as Italian chanteuse Maria Monti’s 1974 LP Il Bestiario. Containing protest songs arranged by composer Alvin Curran, it also features guitarists Tony Ackerman and Luca Balbo and baritone saxophonist Roberto Laneri. The original (on Ri-Fi) is rare as hen’s teeth, so this limited CD reissue is quite welcome. Not all of the tracks here feature Lacy – they range from fantasias for bubbling synthesizer and voice to bluesy lieder with plaintive guitar and woodwind lines. Lacy’s sound isso distinctive that it adds a strong degree of curious lyrical commentary to the often-eccentric proceedings, whether playing it straight or strange. Il Bestiario is a great record and, as with any Lacy sideman appearance, gives one a fuller picture of this fascinating and consistently engaged improvising composer.