Tag Archives: Kent Carter

The New York City Jazz Record review by Clifford Allen

CF 247The 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.

Cuadernos de Jazz review by Jesús Gonzalo

Steve Lacy Quintet – Estilhaços (CF 247)
La oportunidad que nos brinda clean feed al rescatar este concierto de Steve Lacy a comienzos de los 70 tiene una importancia que va más allá de la escena portuguesa. Por un lado sirve para homenajear la decisiva actividad realizada por el espacio radiofónico Cinco Minutos de Jazz (CMJ), que el pasado 21 de febrero cumplía 46 años de difusión de esta música a nivel internacional. Por otro se destaca a Steve Potts como valedor del jazz portugués posterior a este encuentro. Lo importante, queremos señalar, es poder disfrutar de la creación de un autor referencial en la modernidad del jazz en un periodo pródigo en títulos publicados o sin reeditar, como el fundamental Scratching the Seventies (5 discos en tres suites que abarca el trabajo comprendido entre 1969 y 1977).

Lacy lleva instalado en Europa desde 1968. Tras pasar por Roma y participar en los más diversos proyectos entre improvisación libre, música contemporánea y electroacústica (Giorgio Gaslini y Richard Teitelbaum), el saxofonista preconfigura una célula creativa como el quinteto justo en este preciso momento. Los músicos que le acompañan en esta sesión, sin Oliver Johnson, serán los protagonistas de gran parte de la producción venidera, y como él estarán afincados en París.

En este contexto creativo en progreso, todo su arte viene dado por esta fórmula de avance y reformulación de lo realizado, nos encontramos con un planteamiento puramente instrumental y en desarrollos colectivos en cierto modo abiertos; es decir, el interés en intercalar elementos literarios o poéticos no canalizan el discurso y por tanto tampoco la voz de Irene Aebi aparece. Volviendo sobre el Scratching the Seventies, sólo en el corte tercero veremos un mensaje hilado en forma de suite entre Chips, Moon y Dreams. Aunque esta pieza sea estructurada entre formas cerradas y abiertas, el material metódico y depurado que nos legará después tiene aquí un punto de origen, si bien es cierto que la elocuencia de conjunto que prevalece en este directo es aquella que se expresa desde ámbitos abiertamente encendidos por la mecha del free jazz y un cálculo enmarañado de movimientos.

Los valores en torno a la estética racionalista impregnada de inspiración plástica de Paul Klee, que tanto admiraba, ceden terreno a la que también sentía por el expresionismo americano de los De Kooning y, sobre todo, Pollock. La geometría queda desfigurada y la música avanza por canales de expresión altamente energéticos, sí, pero también como arte abstracto que se construye con detalle en el espacio interlineal y la indagación cromática. En este sentido, resulta muy interesante comprobar las posibilidades tímbricas extremas y novedosas que extraen Lacy y Potts a los saxos, a través de formulaciones repetitivas (No Baby) y duras inflexiones en los registros que Lacy había aprendido de las técnicas aplicadas al shakuhachi pero también de la inspiración beatnik que traía el Aullido de Allen Ginsberg. Portentoso el trabajo en los saxos, decimos, que tiene otro momento decisivo (afinidad electrónica) en el inicio del tema final The High Way, en el que el desbordamiento con el apoyo en el trabajo con arco, los silbatos y los saxos haciendo de cláxones parecen llamar a la rebelión.

Cuarenta años de este concierto. Cuarenta minutos de música. En el tema introductorio una emisora de radio en portugués se fundía cual espectro sonoro en el mensaje del grupo. Dos años más tarde desde las ondas se anunciaría la Revolución de los Claveles. La vanguardia había llegado a Lisboa.
http://www.cuadernosdejazz.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2340:steve-lacy-quintet&catid=4:discos&Itemid=7

Culture Jazz review by Jean Buzelin

Steve Lacy Quintet – Estilhaços (CF 247)
Autre rareté à reparaître avec la reproduction de sa pochette d’origine — celle-ci, je l’avais en 33 tours ! —, un album d’un concert du quintette de Steve Lacy enregistré à Lisbonne en 1972. Si la notoriété de Steve Lacy n’a rien à voir avec la “non-carrière“ de Marzette Watts, ce disque est d’un grand intérêt malgré l’abondante production de son auteur. En effet, la musique de son quintette régulier n’était encore guère documentée à cette époque (Citons “Wordless“ – Futura GER 22, 1970, et “Laps“ – Saravah 10031, 1971).  Par contre, ses concerts étaient très prisés et cet enregistrement public constitue un excellent témoignage de son travail à l’époque, tant au niveau de ses compositions qu’il reprendra et retravaillera inlassablement, qu’à celui du groupe, toujours en perpétuelle évolution grâce à un personnel stable (seul Noel McGhie ne restera pas très longtemps). Si Steve Potts se montre toujours très tranchant à l’alto, c’est, là aussi, le collectif qui domine, avec au-dessus de la mêlée pourrait-on dire, le phrasé découpé et la sonorité pleine caractéristiques du jeu de ce musicien exceptionnel que fut Steve Lacy.
http://www.culturejazz.fr/spip.php?article1984#up

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Jazztimes review by Shaun Brady

Squid’s Ear review by Paul Serralheiro

Steve Lacy – Estilhacos: Live in Lisbon (CF 247)
Before introducing the Steve Lacy quintet, the announcer at the start of this 1972 concert at Lisbon’s Cinema Monumental claims that contemporary jazz has retaken a beautiful tradition of collective improvisation. The concert then starts with transistor radio signals unleashed by Irene Aebi, as the Lacy quintet of the period launches into its collective improvisation with a six-minute “Stations,” which features voices off Portuguese air waves, and the ecstatic playing of Steve Pots’ alto, Steve Lacy’s chirping soprano, Kent Carter’s probing bass and the cymbal splashes and drum rolls of Noel McGhie.

The rest of the session features playing on some other well-known Lacy pieces, “Chips,” “Moon,” “Dreams, ” “No Baby” and “The High Way,” Aebi adding cello and harmonica to the mix. As is often the case with Lacy concerts, judging from other live recordings, this is a very free reading of composed material and while the thematic material is predetermined, there is a pervasive feeling of spontaneity and the spirit of adventure reigns supreme.

A combination of intense free playing and whimsical punctuations of harmonica, as well as the occasional radio signal get thrown in throughout, with lots of textural variety. A prominent feature of this high energy, burning group effort, is the interesting two-saxes overlaps, and the transistor radio that provides interesting entry points for the aleatory process, something that seems central to Lacy’s compositional aesthetic.

Fernando Pessoa, one of Portugal’s most famous 20th century poets, claimed toward the end of his life that his country was destined to become a cultural leader, and while that may seem like hyperbole, it is clear that Portuguese label Clean Feed is stepping up and releasing some music that supports the continuing efforts of the avant guard. Even though this Lacy disc is a reissue, the music here will still give listeners (musicians and lay listeners alike) something to think about, in this era of misnamed “Jazz festivals” and in a world where jazz has become processed and stylized to the point of sterility and reductive revisionism. What this album asserts is that collective improvisation is a vital defining feature of jazz that will always be best when volatile and uncaged.
http://www.squidsear.com/cgi-bin/news/newsView.cgi?newsID=1472

Paris Transatlantic review by Jason Bivins

Steve Lacy Quintet – ESTILHACOS (CF 247)
Not only is it always a wonderful thing to hear a new recording or reissue unearthed from the still sorely-missed Lacy, but to have a document from an under-represented period and a slightly different lineup is a special treat. From a 1972 Lisbon recording, Lacy’s quintet on Estilhacos (Irene Aebi on cello, harmonica, and radio, altoist Steve Potts, bassist Kent Carter, and drummer Noel McGhie) was a raw, at times militant art-improv band (and indeed, the band’s knowing decision to dial into Radio Renescenca tapped into the revolutionary mood brewing in Portugal in the early 1970s). With noisy radio signals and a martial sound, the quintet barrels its way through the opening “Stations,” with muted melismatic cello from Aebi and gruff staccato horn polyphony. The band follows this up with a blistering, churning medley of (again) lesser known tunes: “Chips” (where Aebi honks away on harmonica), “Moon,” and “Dreams.” On the latter piece, Potts is positively incendiary atop a groaning bed of sound. A transformed, raucous “No Baby” is miles away from most available versions of this tune. And the closing “The High Way,” finds Lacy revisiting territory similar to “Stations,” a rumbling, droning bed and repeating staccato phrases for the saxophones (almost conjuring the opening of “Wickets”). Top notch.
http://www.paristransatlantic.com/magazine/monthly2012/06jun_text.html#4

Improjazz review by Luc Bouquet

Free Jazz review by Tom Burris

Steve Lacy: The Sun and Estilhacos The Sun (Emanem) ****½
Estilhacos: Live in Lisbon (CF 247) *****
The material on these two discs was recorded between the years of 1967 and 1973, and presents an astonishing range of successful experiments in various small group settings. The Sun is a compilation of studio recordings that features quintet sets, electro-acoustic free improvisations, and Lao Tzu and Buckminster Fuller poems set to the quintet’s collective skronk and roll in solemn protest of the Vietnam war. Estilhacos is a 1972 concert performance that is an absolute masterpiece of collective improvisation, easily the equal – if not the better – of any free jazz warhorse you care to mention. I will rave like a complete lunatic about this later.

The Sun opens with Irene Aebi singing scientist Buckminster Fuller’s “The Historical Attempt by Man to Convert his Evolution from a Subjective to an Objective Process” on the title track in a style that immediately made me think of June Tyson. It’s hard to avoid, as here is “the sun,” barely controlled collective improvisation bubbling underneath, and the singer is declaring statements in a dramatic monotone voice from a poem whose main statement is summed up in the lines “intellect may write every equation of physical behavior, but no physical or abstract equation will ever encompass intellect.” It’s Ra territory – at least on the surface; and like the Arkestra, Lacy’s quintet lays out a unified blanket of sound, the threads of which never cease moving.

“The Gap” follows with Karl Berger’s vibes paving the way to an onslaught of sound with trumpeter Enrico Rava taking over the lead after just a couple of minutes. The piece changes directions quickly throughout, slowing down and becoming sparse one minute, then turning spastic and dense the next. Aldo Romano plays a quick drum solo before Berger steps in and signals another slow and sparse conversation with the rest of the band members. This track runs headlong into “The Way,” a short vehicle for Berger which not only serves as a coda for “The Gap,” but also is a perfect intro to the next track, “The Way (Take 5?)”. Not an easy trick, considering that the next track was recorded by a different group in a completely different setting. Sure, the compilation has a unified anti-war theme (or anti-Vietnam-war, to put it in its original context) – but the attention to detail and excellent track sequencing are what make this a real album. (The liner notes are killer too.)

The next four tracks feature Lacy & Aebi with Richard Teitelbaum on synthesizer. Aebi sings from Lao Tzu’s “The Way of Life” while Lacy and Teitelbaum duel underneath. Teitelbaum works around the limitations of the first Moog synthesizer ingeniously, providing support and, when necessary, counterpoint to Lacy’s lines. Teitelbaum plays long passages of synth bubbles and spaceship engine sounds, again making the Sun Ra comparison inevitable. Later, on “Improvisation, Number Due,” Lacy makes successful attempts to meet the synth on its own wavelength; making it difficult to remember that this is an electro-acoustic collaboration.

“Chinese Food” contains more from “The Way of Life” and is evidently Teitelbaum’s first ever attempt at improvising on the synthesizer or anything else. Appropriately enough, he plays passages that sound like machine guns, bombs, helicopters, etc. On this track Aebi sounds like a strange hybrid of Abbey Lincoln and Dagmar Krause, as ridiculous as that sounds… This is also the earliest track on the album & was the first piece of protest music Lacy and Aebi put together.

“The Woe” is a long piece in four parts and is the real centerpiece here. It begins with “The Wax,” which is sort of a free jazz march, echoing Albert Ayler and the early Brotzmann trio. “The Wage” begins with a tape recording of war sounds. It quickly becomes apparent that the band is at war – with the recording, standing together and fighting the barrage of military noise with improvisational unity. This is no time for solos; the musicians stay together, contributing everything they can as a means of survival – empathizing with their brothers in the jungles of Vietnam. I don’t think I’m reading too much into it when I say that their blasts are also cries for their brothers and sisters on all sides of the conflict. The universal compassion is as evident as the sense of injustice and feelings of anger and rage. It’s an ugly, beautiful monster of astonishing emotional complexity.

Estilhacos is an absolute Mount Olympus of volcanic proportions. As in “The Wage,” it begins with a recording – this time of a man’s voice. The group begins playing an angular figure. A woman’s voice rises in the right channel. Again the band becomes unified, as if being attacked by the recording. The track ends with the same angular figure that was played at the beginning. This is the preface for everything that will follow.

“Chips” starts off in the same manner, as an angular melodic figure repeats and gradually distorts until glorious calamity ensues. The only misstep is that someone (Aebi, I think) blows and sucks on a harmonica in a way that sounds like a 10-year-old making a mockery of the proceedings. Obviously, one man’s music is another man’s noise – and I feel more than a little hypocritical drawing the line at a harmonica’s presence – but everyone has his preferences, right? Thankfully it doesn’t go on for too long and eventually the clamor becomes spacious, with the collective sounds approximating a walk through the jungle(s of Vietnam?).

“No Baby” opens with another angular line that sounds like the cadence of the title. Aebi saws mercilessly away at the cello in one channel while Lacy has a soprano conniption in the other. Noel McGhee and Kent Carter keep the whole thing in continuous momentum creating wave after wave of perfection for Lacy and Aebi to ride. Then “no baby” is sounded again to signal the end of the piece.

Long single note drones from the bass and cello introduce “The Highway,” before a two-note melody line from Steve Potts enters, with Lacy shrieking a one-note Morse code signal above. Crashing cymbals enter and Potts starts playing counterpoint around Lacy, who refuses to give up that note. The tension is incredible as one car horn after another screams by. Finally it breaks with the alto rising out of the traffic. Six minutes in, the music is so intense that the crowd erupts in applause. Another minute later, they cheer again. And again! As the band rises to unfathomable heights, the soprano and alto merge and collide with such intensity that for a few seconds you’d swear you were listening to an electric guitar feeding back. The crowd erupts. You can hear the normally conservative and reserved Lacy’s voice actually beaming as he hastily introduces the band and thanks the audience. Some of the band members aren’t quite sure if they’re finished yet as they continue to crash, bang and skronk randomly behind him, as if they’re searching through the wreckage for salvageable parts. Good Lord, this is how it’s done!
http://freejazz-stef.blogspot.pt/

Music and More review by Tim Niland

Steve Lacy – Estilhacos (CF 247)
This is an exciting improvised performance by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy in a live concert with Irene Aebi on cello, Kent Carter on bass, Noel Mcghie on drums and Steve Pots on alto saxophone. Recorded live in Lisbon in 1972, the music is very hot and exciting, beginning with “Stations” which is an interesting experimental track where the band uses recorded sound and spoken word as a jumping off point for their improvisation, which develops into a blasting collective statement. The medley “Chips – Moon – Dreams” opens with a developmental introduction with what sounds like a harmonica adding texture to the music. There is a torrid alto saxophone solo that makes way for Lacy’s soprano that probes and squeals over strong drums and cello, slowing down the pace before dramatically ramping up to the finish. “No Baby” has a fast, ripe and raw melody with strong grinding saxophone building a fast and raw improvisation. Soprano saxophone comes in strong and loud and occasionally shrill overwhelming the recording equipment, building to a dynamic double horn finale. “The High Way” brings the album to a scalding conclusion with the two saxophones binding with strong drums and cello making for a very powerful and potent collective improvisation. This was a very exciting album to listen to, the musicians go for broke from the first note. The recording quality can be a little raw at times but if anything that makes the music even harsher and more powerful in the levels of energy that the musicians produce.
http://jazzandblues.blogspot.pt/

Point of Departure review by Ed Hazell

Steve Lacy – The Sun  (Emanem)
Avignon and After, Vol. 1  (Emanem)
Steve Lacy – Estilhaços, Live in Lisbon (CF 247)
A great jazz musician is always a work in progress. There are periods of equilibrium and refinement, but sometimes progress comes faster, with major changes crowding together. These three CDs cover the years 1968–1974 in Steve Lacy’s career, a six-year period of rapid development indeed. The Sun, an anthology of quintet dates and electro-acoustic sessions with synthesizer player Richard Teitelbaum, documents Lacy’s maturing vision of small bands, the first art song settings of poetry for Irene Aebi, and the emergence of a methodology for electronic and acoustic improvisers to work together. Avignon and After charts the birth and subsequent development of a solo saxophone language, certainly one of the most far-reaching of Lacy’s innovations. Estilhacos is an early quintet masterpiece, an astonishing concert performance from early 1972 that showcases the first flowering of Lacy’s first “classic” quintet.

The Sun opens with two tracks (and a short vibraphone solo introduction to “The Way”) from a short-lived quintet featuring Aebi, trumpeter Enrico Rava, vibraphonist Karl Berger, bassist Kent Carter, and drummer Aldo Romano. Recorded just after Lacy emerged from a period of playing free improvisation, the writing is not yet fully developed. “The Sun” features Aebi declaiming a poem by Buckminster Fuller in an operatic recitative style while the instrumental part is through-composed but freely interpreted and provides a contrasting backdrop. There’s little of the structural clarity that marks Lacy’s more mature writing and there’s no attempt to wed words and melody in the vocal part. “The Gap” is a graphic score and allows the band to flow through collective improvisation, and different instrumental combinations and tempos in an orderly fashion, but it feels more like a composer in search of a voice. The performances are committed and lively, especially “The Gap,” but immature nevertheless.

Teitelbaum explains in the liner notes that “Chinese Food,” recorded in New York in 1967 and released here for the first time, is “the first real project I ever did improvising with electronics.” There is a palpable air of excitement and discovery in the session and a second recorded a year later. Lacy himself sounds engaged by the challenge of playing with an electronic instrument and brings his extended sound vocabulary into the mix. Recorded as the Vietnam War escalated, it is an anti-war piece with Aebi performing the poetry of Lao Tzu in a speaking-singing voice full of nuanced inflections and outrage. Lacy and Teitlebaum are forthright and polemical as well, feeling their way into an electric-acoustic equilibrium of hard and sometimes harsh sounds.

The later session, originally issued on LP on the Roaratorio label (with lovely hand-painted covers), is worth restoring to print. Aebi delivers one of Lacy’s early, but enduring songs, “The Way” a capella in a matter of fact tone but she sometimes displays the alpine brightness of her voice that Lacy loved to exploit. As Lacy and Teitelbaum slip into their duet, it’s fascinating to hear them invent a new acoustic-electronic music, a dialogue never possible until then. Teitelbaum’s instrument is limited, at least by current standards, but he finds ways to work within the synthesizer’s capabilities. He pits sounds against each other, creating novel sonic hybrids, he bends and inflects tones, creating waves of sounds, little crackling, pointillistic fields of notes. The sound events succeed one another, but there is nothing like traditional melodic development. Lacy responds with his own growing vocabulary of soprano sax sounds, paralleling Teitelbaum’s progress, but unable to resist linear development. There are two duets and another version of “The Way,” and each has its own character, charts its own path.

The Vietnam War inspired another directly political piece, the four-part suite The Woe, performed here by what can only be described as Lacy’s first classic band, the quintet with Aebi, Steve Potts, Kent Carter, and Oliver Johnson. It’s a harrowing work, calculated to assault the senses. Its centerpiece, “The Wage,” uses the taped sounds of gunfire, exploding bombs, helicopters, and jets to make a hellish assault on the quintet. The band sounds tight in an extended collective improvisation, clinging together against the attack and wailing and lamenting like a community caught in the crossfire of battle. Potts and Lacy solo together exceptionally well, expressing outrage, horror, and suffering with shrilling and shrieking cries. Potts is featured on “The Wane,” and his grasp of how to use Lacy’s compositions in his soloing is in full display. Lacy wraps up the suite with “The Wake,” a setting of a chilling poem by French poet Eugéne Guillevic that’s an early example of how he could find the right melody, rhythm, and tempo for a poem to amplify its meaning musically. The Sun, a seemingly quirky anthology of miscellaneous sessions, ends up being a revealing and insightful collection of Lacy’s music.

Even as Lacy put together his new quintet, he was also embarking on his long odyssey as an unaccompanied soloist. Lacy as much as any saxophonist of the ‘70s, established the solo performance as an important vehicle for improvisers. He had the foresight to record his very first attempt, two 1972 concerts in a church in Avignon, which became the very first release of the indefatigable documenter of British free improvisation and American free jazz, the Emanem label. This new reissue includes four previously unreleased, but not essential, tracks from Avignon as well as an unaccompanied version of Lacy’s suite, Clangs, recorded in Berlin in 1974. It’s the first of two projected releases of early solo material, and a historically significant one.

The Avignon recording is remarkable for its level of control and focus, especially since it was Lacy’s first-ever solo concert. Lacy already could strike a masterful balance among sound, line, and silence and he could take his solos from one point to the next with a sense of inevitability that was nonetheless full of surprises. He doesn’t attempt to fill all the sonic space, he lets silence play a role in the music in a way that it can’t in a band. The music flows without having to take input from other instruments into consideration and each phrase has a natural integrity and wholeness that’s impossible in a group. “Original New Duck” is a tremendous version of a tune Lacy played quite often. He subjects each motif to a surprising variation or distortion, hitting alarming high notes and brusque low notes with absolute control of timbre. “Josephine” begins with a section of strong linear development, moves into sound manipulations, including quiet kissy noises, timid mouse squeaks, and rusty hinge creaks, and returns to melody with a spritely, dancing tune. “Weal” is a fiendishly difficult composition with an improvised section that explores different permutations of a shrill buzz and an insistent high note pattern.

Clangs is a worthy addition to the documentation of Lacy’s solo work. Lacy patiently develops the “The Owl,” playing a phrase, adding a few notes to it, then repeating it and appending a few more until the melodic thread is stretched to the breaking point. The resemblance to bird song is pronounced, with unpitched notes forming patterns and contours recognizable as melody. “Tracks” begins with a melody formed of little paw-print staccato notes that Lacy then develops into wandering trails of delicate chirps and twitters. Here, too, his mastery of the straight horn is complete, disciplined, adventurous, and original. “The New Moon” features one of his great melodic abstractions, full of melodies that avoid tonality, astringent cries, flatulent blats, and phrases of all shapes and lengths.   Performances like these remind you of how expansive Lacy’s vocabulary was and how specific to the instrument the sounds and notes were. No one had gotten more out of the soprano saxophone than him. These concerts don’t sound like experimentation, either. Lacy has control over all the material. Although he’s exploring how to assemble sounds into new forms and pathways, he’s using materials he thoroughly understands.

Recorded a year before the Avignon solo concerts, Estilhacos is another of Lacy’s early ‘70s recorded masterpieces. It features a similar band to the one on The Woe, with Noel McGhee instead of Oliver Johnson, on an especially good night in Lisbon. They open with “Station,” which features a tart, angular Lacy melody played over a shortwave radio, and a solo from Potts at his most confrontational. On “Chips/Moon/Dream,” Potts continues on a tear, with his amazing repertoire of shouts and wails punctuating a ferociously swinging solo. Lacy counters with a lean, linear solo as stark and humorous and vulnerable as Samuel Beckett’s prose. McGhee is sensitive to the contrasts between Lacy and Potts and accompanies each differently. This is especially clear on the concert’s tremendous version of “No Baby,” which also features the best Lacy solo of the night, a prolonged and closely reasoned statement of untempered notes and uncertain tonality that is both damned odd and totally logical. They go out on “The Highway,” whose abrasive theme goads the band into its most energized and abstract playing of the night. Potts infuses his solo with blues and bop and his most plangent cries, while Lacy once again sails far beyond tonality but still holds tight to melody.

These three albums outline one of the great stories of modern jazz, the story of Steve Lacy putting together his first important working band, beginning to write persuasively for voice, and building a new instrumental and compositional vocabulary to arrive at one of his peaks of artistic maturity.
http://www.pointofdeparture.org/PoD39/PoD39MomentsNotice.html