Steve Lacy: Let’s Call This…Esteem; Hall Egg Farm 2000.10.16; November and Ideal Bread's Transmit
Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron
Steve Lacy (1934-2004) held several distinctions in his 50-year career. He, alongside John Coltrane, was responsible for the modern template of soprano saxophone playing. He was one of few musicians whose work is appreciated by both straight-ahead and avant-garde listeners. And he perhaps had albums released by more different labels than any other artist in jazz history (over 150). Concert recordings are still being issued and reissued on a swathe of imprints, keeping Lacy's remarkable music still flowing. And adding to this legacy is the young quartet Ideal Bread, laudably dedicating themselves to performing the late master's compositions.
Let's Call This...Esteem is a limited reissue of a SLAM Production: Lacy in duo with pianist Mal Waldron live from the Oxford Playhouse Jazz Festival on May 16th, 1993. This is a partnership dating back to Lacy's second session as a leader (Reflections, New Jazz 1958) and continued across continents and into some rather exploratory territory over the years until Waldron's death in 2002. That first album was an exploration of the music of Thelonious Monk, another constant facet of Lacy's career. Monk features prominently ("Let's Call This," "Monk's Dream," "Evidence," "Epistrophy") as do a couple of tunes associated with Duke Ellington ("In a Sentimental Mood" and "Johnny Come Lately"). But both players also each contribute a pair of tunes (Waldron's "Snake Out" and "What It Is"; Lacy's "Blues for Aida" and "Esteem") for what is their sixth duet album together. Why Lacy and Waldron worked so well together is that both came out of a firm jazz tradition, then absorbed the innovations of free and avant-garde musics organically, never abandoning their foundations.
Lacy had a long affiliation with Japan, working with that country's labels and musicians for most of his career. Hall Egg Farm 2000.10.16 documents a meeting with pianist Yuji Takahashi and the late percussionist Masahiko Togashi for two trio pieces (the other two are a piano solo and piano-percussion duet), all completely improvised. Togashi and Lacy had worked together intermittently since 1981 but this live recording is the first meeting between Takahashi and Lacy since 1975's Distant Voices (Columbia). This is Lacy at his most avant-garde, which means something very different for him than most. He almost never overblows and avoids any extended techniques for his instrument. Thus all of his improvisatory skill is applied to the spontaneous construction of melody; Takahashi's piano tends to move him towards being more reflective only to be upended by the combative drums of Togashi, highlighting a more rhythmic aspect to the saxophonist's playing.
One of Lacy's favored environments was solo. Even more so than Evan Parker or Anthony Braxton, Lacy's almost 20 albums unaccompanied defined the possibilities of an instrumentalist reacting to himself. November documents his final solo performance, given as part of the Unerhört Festival in Zurich, recorded November 29, 2003, a few months after being diagnosed with cancer and less than a year before his death. The material is taken from the entire arc of Lacy's career: '70s ("The Crust," "Moms," "The New Duck," "The Whammies"); '80s ("The Door," "The Rent"); '90s ("Blues for Aida," "The Hoot"). There is also a new tune"Tinas Tune," featuring Lacy's vocalsand, appropriately, the program ends with a reading of Monk's "Reflections," demonstrating that Lacy was an artist who worked in subtle layers rather than radical departures. Lacy's wonderful, dry tone is still here, as his metrical understanding and forward vision that make his solo statements never seem thin. As is the case with the Egg Farm recording, Lacy's currency is melodic and motific development sans the usual avant-garde flourishes or textural filler, placing even more pressure on him as a solo performer.
Ideal Bread is a collective formed by baritonist Josh Sinton (who studied with Lacy at New England Conservatory) in 2007 with trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. The name is taken from a 1976 Lacy quote comparing music and baking and Transmit is the group's second album after a limited debut on KMB Jazz where the group reimagined a number of pieces from Lacy's Capers album (hatHUT, 1979). The pieces on Transmit were originally recorded in 1969 ("The Breath"), 1973 ("Flakes," "The Dumps"), 1976 ("Papa's Midnite Hop"), 1983 ("Clichés"), 1986 ("As Usual") and 1996 ("Longing"). As with piano-less Monk tributes, the lack of a soprano means the emphasis is less about Lacy's particular instrumental approach or even improvisatory style as it is more about Lacy the composer, certainly one of the more prolific and original in jazz. And there is little reference audible to Lacy's actual collaborations with trumpeters like the late Ambrose Jackson or Franz Koglmann or a saxophonist like Steve Potts. Maybe Sinton and Lacy share a certain bluesy quality to their playing and Radding's tone is certainly as thick as longtime Lacy bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel, but the similarities stop there. Lacy most likely would have hated to think of his music in canonical terms and Ideal Bread definitely make it their own and show it stands alongside any modern music being written today.
Tracks and Personnel
Let's Call This...Esteem
Tracks: Intro / Let's call this....; Monk a dream; In a sentimental mood; Snake out; Blues for Aida; Johnny come lately; What is it; Evidence; Epistrophy; Esteem.
Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano sax; Mal Waldron: piano.
Hall Egg Farm 2000.10.16
Tracks: Trio 1; Piano Solo; Duo (Perc, Piano); Trio 2.
Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano sax; Yuji Takahashi: piano; Masahiko Togashi: percussion.
Tracks: The Crust; Moms; Tinas Tune; The Door; Blues for Aida; The Hoot; The New Duck; The Rent; The Wammies; Reflections.
Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano sax
Tracks: As Usual; Flakes; The Dumps; Longing; Cliches; The Breath; Papa's Midnite Hop.
Personnel: Josh Sinton: baritone saxophone; Kirk Knuffke: trumpet; Reuben Radding: bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.