Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone) and Roswell Rudd (trombone) had a long and illustrious musical history together dating back to the 1950s playing in Dixieland ensembles. By the early 1960s, they were committed modernists and formed a quartet devoted (mostly) to the music of Monk; School Days, a 1963 live date released twelve years later on hatOLOGY was the only recorded evidence of this band. In the mid 1970s, they reunited for a set of Lacy originals on Trickles (Black Saint, 1976) and in the late 1990s recorded Monk's Dream (Verve, 2000). While they didn't record together that frequently, they always sounded like they'd been playing together regularly, forming a wonderful contrasting frontline with Lacy's lithe, wistful, acrobatic lines balancing Rudd's big, booming rounded tone. But it wasn't always so circumscribed; Rudd had a bounce and lightness to his improvisations and Lacy always had a certain amount of heft and gravitas to his playing.
Early And Late is a double disc set that cherry-picks nine tracks recorded in three concerts (two from 1999 and one from 2002) by the quartet (bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch) that recorded Monk's Dream. Only two tracks from that release are reprised here, and the one Monk tune from these sessions is "Light Blue, a tune they never recorded together before. "Bookioni, a Lacy obscurity that's a feature for Betsch, is given a quick run through and Rudd and Lacy's mutual admiration for Herbie Nichols is manifested in their version of his "Twelve Bars. Rudd's composition "Bamako is given an epic twenty-minute treatment with Avenel shining in particular on two solos that incorporate kora-like strumming. It's also great to hear Lacy playing on this tune, which puts him over rhythmic and harmonic structures he rarely touched on in his own compositions.
But the real importance of this release is the presence of four demos that the original Lacy/Rudd "School Days band recorded in October 1962; this is an era of the new jazz that's poorly documented. The major labels wanted nothing to do with it and the network for self-produced recordings had yet to emerge. They show off their Monk credentials by recording two lesser known, more complex compositions"Eronel (two takes) and "Think Of One and also perform Cecil Taylor's "Tune Two. These are not merely historical recordings. They are prime examples of one of the places state-of-the-art new jazz was in 1962. Kudos to Cuneiform for rescuing these obscurities.
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