Steve Lacy & Roswell Rudd: Live at the Bird of Paradise (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
Coming together in one of those "once in a lifetime" sort of ways, a recent two-night stand by the reunited Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd Quartet was not only remarkable in terms of the musicians involved but also notable due to the venue chosen for the occasion. Anyone familiar with the jazz lineage of Detroit and the suburbs therein knows the name of bassist Ron Brooks. His major claim to fame has been his recording work with piano legend Kenny Cox (the sadly underrated Blue Note albums Introducing Kenny Cox & the Contemporary Jazz Quintet and Multidirection are long overdue for reissue) and his founding of Ann Arbor’s stellar jazz club, The Bird of Paradise. After 15 years at their quaint location on South Ashley, they’ve moved over to larger quarters on Main Street and thus a new era has begun for what has evolved into one of the best jazz clubs in the Northern United States.
Closing out a month-long series of shows in support of their new Verve release, Monk’s Dream , Lacy and Rudd hit the stage on an April Fool’s evening at the new Bird ready to take the audience on an enigmatic voyage, Lacy dressed in a dapper all-black suit and the gray-bearded Rudd, by contrast, sporting a tie-dyed smock. Owing to Lacy's career-long fondness for the music of Thelonious Monk and the new album's preference for a few of the man's classics, it came as no surprise that the first set got underway with a take on "Bemsha Swing." The sense of integration among the quartet, with bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch rounding out the quartet, was immediately apparent; there was tightness with just the right amount of taught risk-taking that always goes along with the best live performance.
A sprightly take on Monk’s "Bemsha Swing" seemed like an apropos opener for the quartet, leading nicely into a pair of Lacy’s programmatic compositions, "The Bath" and "The Door." After cutting their teeth on all of this, the group entered into a free collective jam that brought out the best in Rudd. Quite an affable and free-spirited chap, the trombonist started off his solo spot with a water gurgling sound and then proceeded to work in quotes of "It’s Been a Long, Long Time" and "September Song" while enticing the crowd to join in with cajoling shouts of "everybody!"
For a hint of this group’s wry sense of humor you just had to experience the antics proceeding the start of the second set. Waiting for Betsch to make it back to the stand, bassist Avenel took a seat at the drums for a quick spell, with Lacy and Rudd then switching horns. After a good laugh, the quartet (now back on their own respective horns) fell into Monk’s "Skippy" without losing a beat. More Monk, a Herbie Nichols classic and Lacy’s "The Rent" rounded out an even more stimulating set that included a portentous and pyrotechnical drumming display from Betsch on the latter.
It’s a shame that the pairing of Lacy and Rudd has happened on such few occasions in the past. Clearly, this was a special reunion that seemed to bring out the best in both players. Contrast has always been a characteristic of your best front-line partners and that maxim was played out here with Lacy proving to be as suave and introverted as Rudd was brash and jovial. Whether is was savvy business marketing or divine proclivity on the parts of Lacy and Rudd, the reunion of these two modern-day masters will surely go down as one of the prime events of the jazz year 2000.