Steve Lacy: School Days (2011)
As the title suggests, School Days is both ironicbecause the ingenuity of these musicians might have actually been the best schooled at the time of the recordingand iconic, as well. The reason? Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd formed one of the great, seminal repertory ensembles of all time, playing the music of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. Moreover, this reissue includes two tracks of Monk's group that included Steve Lacy. While the recordings with Monk have been issued previously, on In Philadelphia 1960 with Steve Lacy (RLR, 2006), this Emanem version is better mastered and sets the historic date right. So this is a memorable recording with music as hard-edged, yet brilliant, as raw diamonds, which also makes it as precious as those much-coveted rocks. And then there is the music that, being Monk's, would certainly exist outside of time, being some of the most classic compositions of the 20th Century.
The album begins with an accidental trio becauseas is recorded in his exquisite liner notes by producer Martin Davidsonbassist Henry Grimes arrived late for the date. As it happens, this created an exquisite "mistake" that not only meant piano-less Monk music, but also Monk with soprano saxophone and trombone, the latter an instrument the composer never envisioned. This in 1963, when the music of Monk was just being re-discovered. What courage on the part of Lacy and Rudd; the meandering "Bye-Ya" sounds absolutely stunning, with drummer Dennis Charles playing so in the pocket, the music has an almost sacred rhythmic ingenuity to it; and, even though this recording of "Pannonica" begins part of the way into the chart, the majesty of Monk's jagged music is kept intact.
The most important aspect of Thelonious Monk's work is that is has a sprawling architecture, with almost no melody at right angles in its schematics. This singular angularity is what makes it so special. Lacy and Rudd not only play Monk as Monk would have it, but also imbue the music with harmony of exceeding elegance. The palette is as beautifully dense as it is viscous, with Lacy painting the topmost shades and Rudd smearing the bottom with growls and voice-like, visceral linguistics. "Monk's Dream," "Brilliant Corners" and "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are" are recalled and recast in all their splendor at a somewhat faster pace, almost as if challenging the players to strut their Monkish stuff. And this they do, while the beautiful, whimsical "Monk's Mood" is utterly memorable, with the three-part counterpoint created by a soaring Lacy, vociferous Rudd and grumbling Grimes, who is brilliant throughout. For the record, the reading of "Skippy" is just as unforgettable.
In Pliny's terms for overcoming an enemyalthough there should be none for such a priceless albumthis reissue absolutely "chokes (them) with gold": Two concluding tracks featuring the majesterium of Thelonious Monk and Charlie Rouse are a delight.
Track Listing: Bye-Ya; Pannonica (incomplete); Monk's Dream; Brilliant Corners; Monk's Mood; Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are; Skippy; Evidence; Straight No Chaser.
Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone; Roswell Rudd: trombone (1-7); Henry Grimes: bass (3-7); Dennis Charles: drum set (1-7); Thelonious Monk: piano (8, 9); Charlie Rouse: tenor saxophone (8, 9); John Ore: bass (8, 9); Roy Haynes: drum set (8, 9).