Saxophonist Steve Lacy made his first American solo appearance in March, 1976. He chose to play at John Fischer's Environ, one of several "loft performing spaces" which prospered in New York at the time. Fortunately for listeners in the 21st century, Jim Eigo was there with a cassette recorder. The sound quality of the 2-disc set which resulted, Snips
, is less than optimalbut the performance itself was a major landmark, and the recording remains a beautiful document of the era.
Lacy, of course, is one of the major exponents of the solo saxophone. His playing experiments with tone and form, relying upon subtlety of expression rather than virtuosic note flurries. His humor shines through in pieces like "the new york duck," which toys with squeaking and squawking noisestransporting the listener to avian events at the water's edge. (Fans of John Zorn might pay notice: Zorn's Classic Guide To Strategy builds upon this construct using saxophone mouthpieces and duck calls.) Lacy's development of thematic groups in the "outline" and "tao" suites marks their first appearance on record. In these spontaneous compositions, Lacy presents simple themes, repeating them several times, then proceeds to deconstruct them using the full range of sounds available to his instrument.
Snips is not a recording for the casual listener. One must pay attention and get involved in the music to fully appreciate it. Lacy's focus on visual and conceptual cues frequently reflects itself in the music. Occasional vocal snippets supply a strange counterpoint to his saxophone utterances (my favorite example of his voice inserts, from "hooky," is the repeated outburst "Don't go to school!"). Even the closing track pursues its bold, intense direction by gradual evolution of a simple theme. Nothing obvious here, but plenty to absorb if you're willing to make the effort. And for Lacy fans, this historical landmark is a must-listen.
Personnel: Steve Lacy, soprano saxophone.