Saxophonist Steve Lacy was famous for writing music dedicated to artists who inspired him. Some of his rarely heard etudes for solo saxophone are divided equally into three books, each named by a letter. Of these, he only recorded one set in his lifetime, Hocus PocusBook 'H' of "Practitioners" (Crépuscule, 1986). Equally idiosyncratic saxophonist Jon Raskin, who considers Lacy a major influence, released the two other books, P and H, in 2021 on his own Temescal label .
Raskin performs Book 'P' of Practitioners on baritone saxophone and is the first musician to improvise on the originals' motifs. He starts off "Porcupineto Serge Diaghilev," with dissonant honks before stating the main theme. Alternating with the short crescendo/decrescendo scales, Raskin delivers the deceptively simple, mellifluous phrases with elegance and whimsy. With each repetition Raskin transforms them with subtle spontaneity. The resulting seamless fusion of the extemporized and prewritten is a delightful amalgam of both artists' styles.
Similarly, "PterodactylTo Cat Anderson," is made up of brief, recurrent, sonic fragments that vary in tempo and alternate from languid to buoyant. Raskin plays the increasingly complex and absorbing piece with melancholy tinged passion. At certain moments Raskin lets loose emotive wails and at others crisp reverberating notes that cluster upon one another for a shimmering crystalline melody. Longing, wistful lines form the haunting conclusion.
"PelicanTo Buck Clayton" is similarly constructed, yet it is overall more soulful and bluesier. The music simmers at times while at others it has a fiery exuberance like short leaping flames. Thanks to Raskin's eloquent rendition and open, warm sound the tune has a dramatic lyricism. Raskin, here as elsewhere on the albumand this is similar to Lacy's approachhe explores the entire range of his instrument. The yearning tones meander gracefully from one blustery chorus to another.
What Raskin has done here is remarkable. Not only has he rescued these gems from obscurity, but he has also infused them with a dynamic urgency and relevance. As such, Raskin's unique improvisational interpretations of Lacy's work has become the perfect homage to Lacy's ingenuity and brilliance.
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