One of the greatest front lines in modern jazz, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd were a singular force. From their earliest forays in the 1950s, Lacy and Rudd performed together regularly but recorded infrequently. Besides a handful of Black Saint/Soul Note albums from the early 1980s, there are few documents of their many performances together.
Other than Trickles (Black Saint, 1976) and Monk's Dream (Verve, 2000), their vibrant piano-less quartet work remains largely undocumented. The only official record of their original 1960s quartet is the low fidelity live album, School Days (Hatology, 1963). Early and Late augments these few historical milestones with expertly recorded live performances from 1999 and 2002, and previously unreleased archival studio sessions from 1962.
The live cuts feature the duo joined by Lacy's regular touring trio of bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch. Expansive pieces conveyed with the casual camaraderie of a freewheeling jam session, the quartet members take extended, unhurried solos. Rudd plays comic relief to Lacy's straight man, buzzing, slurring and growling with ribald spontaneity. Lacy's geometrically abstract phrasing is methodical, but always lyrical. His understated, breathy tone is a perfect complement to Rudd's gruff snarl and groan.
Original School Days quartet bassist Bob Cunningham and drummer Dennis Charles are featured on four demo tunes drawn from a recently discovered 1962 session. The only known studio recordings of this seminal line-up, these selections offer a concise snapshot of the quartet's burgeoning mastery with limber, swinging brevity.
The conceptual thread that flows through all the pieces, regardless of their vintage, is Lacy and Rudd's abiding love for the music of Thelonious Monk. One of his most loyal advocates, Lacy played briefly with Monk in 1960, subsequently recording entire albums of the pianist's compositions throughout his career. Rounded out by a few Lacy and Rudd originals and a rare, early Cecil Taylor composition, the tunes all embody a quirky melodic sensibility, beguiling but slightly skewed; much like Monk's own unique aesthetic.
Early and Late provides an invaluable window into a forty-year collaborative process that ranks among the greatest achievements in modern jazz.