The Whammies: Play the Music of Steve Lacy (2012)
The rich legacy left by Steve Lacy has been the source of numerous tributes since his untimely passing in 2004. Among the most devoted interpreters are Ideal Breada New York-based quartet led by baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, who worked with the iconic soprano saxophonist, and The Renta Canadian ensemble founded by trombonist Scott Thompson, who took lessons with Lacy's old foil, trombonist Roswell Rudd. Add to this shortlist of personally connected Lacy repertory bands, The Whammies (named after an old Lacy tune), an all-star unit that instills Lacy's notoriously quirky themes with an appropriately insouciant attitude on Play the Music of Steve Lacy, their debut for Driff Records.
Co-led by Dutch alto saxophonist and former Lacy student Jorrit Dijkstra and fellow Boston-based pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, The Whammies feature an impressive international lineup. Trombonist Jeb Bishop and bassist Nate McBride are high profile bandleaders from Chicago, each with strong ties to the Boston scene. Legendary Dutch drummer Han Bennink, the most imposing member, played with Lacy in the 1980s. Guest violinist Mary Oliver, also from the Netherlands, appears on four cuts.
Augmented by personalized dedications, the group respectfully interprets Lacy's singular compositions, preserving the unique melodic, harmonic and rhythmic characteristics of each tune. Their feisty extrapolations extend the originals' expressive potential while simultaneously alluding to the historic efforts of Lacy's most distinctive collaborators: Bishop's smeary bluster subtly recalls Rudd's avant-gutbucket musings; Oliver's sinewy rasp evokes the prickly violin ruminations of Lacy's wife, Irene Aebi; and Karayorgis' pugilistic cadences find concordance in the spiky pianism of Bobby Few, Lacy's long-time accompanist, although Karayorgis' capricious intervals draw a stronger conceptual through-line to the mercurial aesthetic of Thelonious Monk, Lacy's mentor.
Dijkstra's un-tempered alto phrasing is stylistically congruent with Lacy's idiosyncratic soprano technique, yet his surreal experiments with the Lyricon, a vintage analog synthesizer, push the music into realms well beyond the conventions of acoustic free jazz. Though Dijkstra studied with Lacy at the New England Conservatory, Bennink, however, provides the strongest link to the late saxophonist's work. The seventy year-old drummer easily holds his own in younger company, bringing a brash vivaciousness to the set with bombastic accents and rambunctious interjections that would have made Lacy proud.
Raw yet respectful, Play the Music of Steve Lacy is far more than just a spirited tribute to an acknowledged master of improvised music, it is a testament to Lacy's merit as a composer of note. In the immortal words of Monk: "Don't play what the public wants. You play what you want and let the public pick up on what you're doing, even if it does take them fifteen, twenty years."
Track Listing: Bone (to Lester Young); As Usual (to Piet Mondrian); The Wire (to Albert Ayler); Ducks (to Ben Webster); Dutch Masters (to Spike Jones & the City Slickers); I Feel a Draft (to Mal Waldron); The Whammies! (to Fats Navarro); Locomotive.
Personnel: Jorrit Dijkstra: alto saxophone, Lyricon; Pandelis Karayorgis: piano; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Mary Oliver: violin, viola (2, 3, 6 7); Nate McBride: bass; Han Bennink: drums.
Record Label: Driff Records