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Steve Lacy: Cycles (1976 – 1980)

John Eyles By

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The autumn 2014 releases from Emanem brought a double dose of good news for admirers of the late, great soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. Firstly, the label's excellent 2011 reissue of the classic School Days album is available again, now that wrangles over some of its content have been amicably resolved. Secondly, and remarkably, this twenty-track double CD set, Cycles contains fifteen previously unissued tracks of solo Lacy in peak form, recorded between 1976 and 1980—a total of some 111 minutes of new Lacy. The album title refers to three cycles of pieces that Lacy frequently performed together, namely the eight-part SHOTS, three-part SANDS and five-part HEDGES. The latter cycle accounts for the five previously-available tracks, which were included in the long-unavailable vinyl double album Ballets (Hat Hut, 1982). Four other tracks that were not part of any cycle—"Follies," "Thought," "Wickets" and "Swoops"—recorded in December 1980, in the acoustically impressive L'Ancienne Eglise de des Jésuites, Porrentruy, Switzerland, along with the HEDGES and SANDS cycles—were not included on Ballets and appear here for the first time. Although Lacy albums entitled Shots (Musica, 1977) and Sands (Tzadik, 1998) exist, containing the cycles of their titles, the versions appearing here are completely different to those ones, and better too.

Cycles sounds excellent throughout, mainly because of painstaking work that Emanem proprietor Martin Davidson invested in it. His own sleeve notes give some insight into that process: "[T]here are two major problems with this Roman concert recording [of the SHOTS cycle]. One is that it was recorded on a cassette recorder with Automatic Gain Control, resulting in me having to spend many hours reducing the volume of each pause and its ensuing note to overcome the undesirable effect..." In addition, Davidson supplemented that Roman recording by substituting pieces taken from other recordings of the SHOTS cycle, constructing the best possible version of it that he could. Such commendable dedication led to a thoroughly excellent two-disc set.

Of course, none of the above would matter if the music itself did not merit it. Fortunately, it more than does; as so often, Davidson has selected well, so that without exception this is top notch Lacy. With the music centred on the three cycles, it hangs together well and, overall, has a pleasing sense of consistency and flow. All of that is reinforced by the confidence, fluency and vitality of Lacy's solo playing. In the spotlight throughout, his exquisite sense of time, the richness of his tone and the sureness of every note are showcased. To hear him at his best, like this, is analogous to watching a snooker ace sure-footedly building a huge break by potting ball after ball after ball without pausing or wavering—impressive stuff! And these Lacy compositions show off his talents to best effect; many of his long melodic lines seem so familiar that one is tempted to sing along with them... but they always manage to keep listeners on their toes by avoiding anything too obvious; so, just as one is anticipating the next phrase, Lacy will throw in an unexpected twist, but always one that works and feels right in context. Yet another first-rate Lacy album to add to those already in Emanem's impressive portfolio of same.

Track Listing: SHOTS: Moms; Pops; The Kiss; Tots; The Ladder; Fruits; Coots; The Wire; Follies; Thought; Wickets; Swoops; SANDS: Stand; Jump; Fall; HEDGES: Hedges; Squirrel; Fox; Rabbit; Shambles.

Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone solos; Pierre Droulers: dance (16-20).

Title: Cycles (1976 – 1980) | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Emanem

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