Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd Quartet Early And Late Cuneiform Records
You're off to a good start when a band is headed by two of the most distinctive musicians ever to grace our music, and this two-disc set proves that in abundance. It proves also that both saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd had a fascination for the music of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols that lasted for decades. The way in which they managed to keep their interpretations of the material perpetually fresh is a wonder in itself.
The title of this set is especially apt as the music spans a period of some forty years. That very longevity ensures that deep knowledge pervades the music and also that Monk and Nichols' compositions are rendered as so much more than tiresome repertory. To hear the reading of Monk's "Light Blue" on the first disc is to hear this made manifest.
It should not, however, be forgotten just what a distinctive composer Lacy was. His Monk-like penchant for angular lines is noticeable on "The Rent," where what can only be described as the sheer irregularity of the piece is as good as the musical equivalent of DNA, especially when Rudd in his solo comes on like a straight up and down mix of fellow trombonists Tricky Sam Nanton and Albert Mangelsdorff. It's nothing but a joy to hear "the tradition" celebrated in such rambunctious and irreverent fashion.
The complete absence of chordal support throughout this set lends the music a perpetually light, airy feel, but it would amount to a whole lot of nothing if bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch didn't take care of business so effectively. The pair are alert to every nuance of the music, aided in this no doubt by the fact that they were regulars in Lacy's working group at the time. Their support for Rudd's solo on "Blinks" is a case in point, particularly as the trombonist brings so much individuality to the fair, even, or perhaps especially, when he quotes woozily from "Chatanooga Choo Choo." Avenel and Betsch make it work.
Rudd's "Bamako" opens the second disc and it wastes not a second in running for over twenty minutes. Avenel gets things underway with a solo full of technical prowess that never descends into mere showing off. Rudd is at his most boisterous, again working with the tradition of jazz trombone at the same time as he shows just how individual a musician he is. He's so much more than the sum total of his influences on this one, in much the same way as Lacy is. His solo is a delicate affair lacking some of his idiosyncratic trademarks, and the urgency of the rhythmic backing renders it all the more remarkable.
The early part of the deal with this set comes in the form of the four tracks that close out the second disc. Cut as a demo in 1962, Lacy's death has had the effect of rendering them utterly poignant, not merely because they are examples of repertory jazz cut at a time when the concept didn't exist. In a programme of music by Monk and Cecil Taylor the two principals show just how easy it was for musicians who'd done their homework to make something out of supposedly outlandish material. Taylor's "Tune 2," in particular, is subjected to the kind of reading a whole heap of also-rans could never hope to attain.
Overall this is nothing short of vital music, and while those who would dedicate themselves to the conservative stance might take issue with that assertion, the fact that the music is so warm and vibrantly, emphatically alive serves notice of how misguided its denigrators are.
Tracks: CD1: The Rent; The Bath; The Hoot; Blinks; Light Blue; Bookioni. CD2: Bamako; Twelve Bars; Bone; Eronel (take 2); Tune 2: Think Of One; Eronel (take 3).
Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone; Roswell Rudd: trombone; Jean-Jacques Avenel: bass (1:1-6,2:1-3); Bob Cunningham: bass (2:4-7); John Betsch: drums (1:1-6,2:1-3); Dennis Charles: drums (2:4-7).
Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano sax; Roswell Rudd: trombone; Jean-Jacques Avenel: bass (disc one, disc two tracks 1-3) Bob Cunningham: bass (disc two, tracks 4-7) John Betsch: drums (disc one, disc two tracks 1-3) Dennis Charles: drums (disc two, tracks 4-7)