Even without the back story of November, the music of soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy exists on its own merits. Compare this live recording to the two dozen-plus solo sessions by this master, and it stands up to any of them.
Not that Lacy was in his finest form here, having been diagnosed with liver cancer. He was to pass away within six months. Did the audience that November night in Switzerland know of his fate? Maybe. Certainly the music heard suggests an artist thinking about the great beyond.
Lacy's final recording further strips away the man's neurons and dendrite. He bares raw emotion, coaxing (sometime out of breath) notes with his renowned élan. In the 1960s, he bridged classical jazz with the avant-garde, and he did it with his funny sounding straight horn. Before John Coltrane began performing with the soprano, Lacy was an advocate the horn. His unique voice and love of the music of Thelonious Monk carved out a niche for his voice.
That voice, so recognizable, is heard herea little more splintery but with full expression. He opens with the sanguine "The Crust," playing with a kind of "stiff upper lip" positiveness, his notes keeping the tent up. Later he pauses, during "Tina's Tune," to sing the words, "If I must die/Let it be autumn/Ere the dew is dry," by the Japanese writer Ozaki Koyo; his breathless song a clue to the program.
Not to be dire, Lacy immediately slugs on with the stellar "The Door," a platform for extended technique and insider blue, finally turning to his old friend Monk and ending the set with "Reflections." The familiar tune, played simply and without adornment resolves the long and storied career of perhaps the finest jazz soprano saxophonist ever.
Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone.