Steve Lacy Seven: Clich

Robert Spencer By

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Clichés is a partial reissue of the Hat Hut double LP Prospectus, but tape deterioration unfortunately ate up a portion of the original 1982 recording, including the former title track. So: Clichés is what remains, a CD-length look at Lacy's long-running and protean sextet, augmented by trombonist George Lewis.

Although almost twenty years have passed, this music sounds astonishingly fresh. It was recorded as Lacy was in the middle of the long process of recovering set structures in his music - not just chord changes, but all manner of structures - after he had cast them all aside in the name of freedom during the Sixties and Seventies. The music on Clichés is more tumultuous than his latter-day work with his trio (cf. The Rent on Cavity Search), and even than his 1998 recording with another larger ensemble, The Cry (Soul Note). Much of the tumult can be attributed to the presence of Lewis, although he is not as flamboyant a tailgater as Lacy's longtime associate Roswell Rudd (counter-evidence may be found on this disc on Lewis' growling, fluttering solo on "Wickets").

Even more tumult comes from Steve Potts, the criminally overlooked alto and soprano saxophonist who was a member of Lacy's sextet for almost a quarter century. On this disc Potts and Lacy wind lines around one another and Lewis (see "Stamps," "The Whammies," etc.), Potts playing with exuberant abandon off Lacy's dry and precise, but anything but emotionless, ripostes. At other points ("Wickets"), however, the restrained Lacy plays the eye of the storm to Potts' and Lewis' pyrotechnics. Pianist Bobby Few is another outstanding and virtually anonymous player, whose versatility, sheer power, and dynamic imagination are on display in abundance all over this disc.

The highlights of this set are the two extended tracks that top it off: "The Dumps" and "Clichés." Lacy describes the former as a "bebop rag, a la Jelly Roll Morton." There is a Dixie trace to the head, but it is played with more speed and abandon than Jelly Roll might have preferred, and leads into a solo by Lacy in which he works marvelously off a series of long tones. The piece goes on for over seventeen minutes, featuring all the performers at high energy and a series of magnificent solos. "Clichés" is an absolute change of pace, with bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel manning an uncredited kora to lay down the foundation of a serene and gorgeous rainforest melody. Vocalist Irène Aebi here makes her only vocal appearance on this disc, and sings the beautiful melody with great restraint and sincerity. As the track progresses it becomes the context for a series of searching and passionate solos, all building from and returning to the core melody. It's a magnificent track, very different from the live version on Blinks (hat ART), and well worth savoring in repeated listenings.

Clichés is another point in Steve Lacy's case to be one of the greatest living jazz masters, and most significant musicians of the last forty years. Highly recommended.


Steve Lacy, ss; Steve Potts, as, ss; George Lewis, tbn; Bobby Few, p; Ir

Title: Clich | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Hat Hut Records


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