My first encounter with Steve Lacy's music was via the album Sortie, long since out of print, back in the early days of my jazz education. Its collective nature confused me so the album went back on the shelf for 10 years.
In 1977, Lacy performqlin l pndon as part of Derek Bailey's first Company Week; his grasp and assimilationof the differing musical approaches, encapsulated by the members of Company, impressed me. Two years later, at a festival in Portugal, Lacy held 1000 people spellbound for an hour with a solo set which ran like a potted history of jazz. His opening notes seemed a logical extension of the previous occasion. He had played like opening a book at a random page, making sense of the text; I was sold.
Since then, with each successive Lacy record and performance, I have witnessed a continuing evolving process in his music, built on his profound sense of jazz's history, based on practical playing situations; playing Dixieland with Roswell Rudd, studying Thelonious Monk's music and reworking his compositions, believing in Cecil Taylor's worth in the Fifties when the world rejected him, and arriving at a state totally himself.
More important, and the essence of his creativity, was relentless pursuance of the possibilities of one instrument - the soprano saxophone-when his contemporaries looked to multi-faceted voicings for expression..
More recently, Lacy's adventures in the freer parts of the music has rounded out his assimilation of jazz's vocabulary. Starting with Taylor in the Fifties, Lacy has worked his sense of tradition through various encounters with free music. He formed a quartet in 1966with bass player Johnny Dyani and percussionist Louis Moho10 and toured the globe in the mid-Sixties ending the journey, after a chequered existence, in South America.
Steve Lacy has performed with many of Europe's leading free musicians, culminating in severalappearanceswith Company, a musical situation he readily admits as being the most taxing and demanding. With Thelonious Monk's death still fresh in the mind, it's worth underlining Lacy's total understanding of his music. Never prepared to treat Monk's compositions lightly, his soloing - while being totally Lacy - has bowed with respect in Sphere's direction. At a recent Company concert, pianist Misha
Mengelberg joined Lacy for a lighthearted working of three Monk themes, both musicians bringing their own brand of humour into play in a way in which Monk would have totally approved.
Since settling in Paris, Steve Lacy's own groups in the last 10 years have been built around saxophonist Steve Potts and Irene Aebi doubling on cello and violin. More re- cently, it has been her voice which has come increasingly to the fore with musical adaptations of poems by Brion Gysin.
It is Lacy's interest in literature and Tao philosophy (as Brian Case explains here) which has shaped much of his musical thinking; the composition titles, the themes themselves, the words, all bound together in a singleminded vision of a unique composer and performer.
Steve Lacy will be making his first appearance with his own group in Britain in November when his current sextet takes part in an Arts Council Contemoorarv Music Network tour. * -
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