Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy has been following his own path for well over fifty years, initially as a traditional jazz musician (drawing upon his chief inspiration, Sidney Bechet), but ultimately becoming comfortable with a more modern approach due to stints with both Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk. His personal instrumental and compositional style continue to confirm his legendary status, whether performing with his own groups, with others, or as a solo performer. Ten of Dukes + Six Originals, another addition to Lacy’s large discography, captures him during an intimate Japanese club appearance, performing a suite of ten Ellington compositions, as well as six originals. Lacy’s artistry is on full display here, and he makes the challenge of a solo recital sound like a piece of cake.
As for the Ellington program, Lacy had previously been performing a collection of Duke compositions for a number of years and his familiarity of these tunes, both known and obscure, is evident throughout. The most interesting concept, of course, is to hear the way in which Lacy distills the richly orchestrated Duke/Strayhorn arrangements into a seamless and gratifying whole. For instance, on tracks like “In A Mellow Tone,” “In A Sentimental Mood” and “Cotton Tail,” Lacy focuses on melodic development with long, flowing harmonic lines that draw upon the beauty of these classics. At the other end of the spectrum, “Prelude To A Kiss” and “KoKo” are prime examples of Lacy’s creativity, with radical reconstructions that provide only brief glimpses of the original melodic structures. Lacy comes full circle with “To the Bitter,” a relaxed end to a varied set.
The second set of the program is comprised of Lacy originals inspired by a variety of sources, both musical and otherwise, including Herman Melville (the Asian-tinged “Art”), Stevie Wonder (the sweet sounds of “Gospel”), and the record’s final track, “Traces,” which is preceded by Lacy’s recitation of Ryokan’s Zen epigrams, signaling a reflective end to an inspired program. This web-only release, circulated by a group of Lacy enthusiasts who call themselves “The Senators,” is another marvelous reflection of Lacy’s talents, full of sophistication, grace and inventiveness.
Track Listing: 1. In A Mellow Tone, 2. The Mooche, 3. Morning Glory, 4. Prelude To A Kiss, 5. Portrait Of Bert
Williams, 6. Azure, 7. Cottontail, 8. In A Sentimental Mood, 9. KoKo, 10. To The Bitter, 11. Art, 12.
Gospel, 13. On A Midnight Kick, 14. Wave Lover, 15. The Breath, 16. Traces.