At the end of 1980, the late Steve Lacy expanded his group to a sextet with the addition of pianist Bobby Few. His first recording with this new configuration was Songs
, a 1981 collaboration with poet/painter Brion Gysin, best known for his work with William Burroughs.
Lacy and Gysin had worked together as far back as '69, and their rapport is evident here. Lacy states in an interview with Jason Weiss (from Duke University Press' forthcoming anthology Conversations) before the album's release that "all the music comes out of the words. So the tunes act as a support for Gysin's lyrics, and many create a Kurt Weill vibe with the way the music mimics vocal intonations. Lacy again, in the same interview: "Well, jazz is speech rhythms.
That becomes quite clear on the infectious opener "Gay Paree Bop, where Lacy's soprano and Steve Potts' alto saxophones imitate Irene Aebi's muscular, operatic tone with unerring accuracy. The lyrics, a string of bouncy nonsense rhymes, become secondary to the manner in which they're spoken, as well as the musicians' reaction. Once she ceases, though, Potts and Lacy take bright and energetic solos, and Few offers a glittering glissando after a rambunctious solo turn of his own.
Then the album turns social realist with "Nowhere Street, opening with two soprano saxophones harmonizing on a mournful melody. Aebi displays her range, echoing the saxophones with a high-pitched wail as she documents the decaying state of a city. Then she picks up her violin, and duels with Few's piano to create the most dissonant depressive tones they can think up. The notes tell a story of their own.
The rest of the album is just as imaginative, aside from the derivative Beat spoken word of "Permutations. "Somebody Special is a lament in swirling lines about the search for love, "Keep the Change a surreal staccato jaunt about a break-up, and the supremely silly (and catchy) "Blue Baboon documents the secret yearnings of giant primates.
Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone, voice (9); Steve Potts: alto & soprano saxophone; Bobby Few:
piano; Irene Aebi: violin & voice; Jean-Jacques Avenel: double bass; Oliver Johnson: drums;
Brion Gysin: voice (4,6-8).