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Steve Lacy Quintet: Last Tour

John Eyles By

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As its title says, this album dates from Steve Lacy's last tour, which ran from the summer of 2003 in NYC through to March 2004 in Boston, (where Lacy was living at the time, as he was teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music). The eight tracks on this album were recorded in Boston's ICA on March 12. Lacy was joined on the tour by musicians he knew well, his wife Irène Aebi on vocals, Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass, John Betsch on drums and George Lewis on trombone. Of course, the tour was to be Lacy's last as he had been diagnosed with cancer in summer 2003. (In fact, after Boston he did play one further gig—at Iridium in NYC—before his death in June 2004, aged 69.)

This quintet's line-up is the same as the one that recorded The Beat Suite (Universal / Sunnyside, 2003) in December 2001. Two of the pieces from that album reappear here, "Naked Lunch" with words by William Burroughs and "In the Pocket" with words by Ann Waldman & Andrew Schelling. In addition to those two, this album includes three further songs with vocals by Aebi—the perennial favourites "Morning Joy," "As Usual" (both with lyrics by Bob Kaufman) and "Train Going By" (from Futurities, lyrics by the Black Mountain Poet Robert Creeley); these three date back at least to the mid-eighties.

As well as his playing, Lacy is heard speaking a lot here between pieces. Atypically, before each of the five performances with vocals, he recites the lyrics of the piece—maybe an acknowledgement that (to American ears) Aebi's vocal style and phrasing did not aid comprehension of the songs' lyrics. Nonetheless, these tracks are all about far more than the vocals and lyrics, being peppered with superb playing by all concerned, most notably Lacy and Lewis who both fire off one first-rate solo after another.

The albums three non-vocal tracks are also its longest, the Lacy classics "The Bath" and "Blinks" as well as the fine new composition "Baghdad" making its debut here. All three are superb examples of Lacy at his best in a group context. The recording quality matches that of the music, in particular showcasing the vital roles played by Avenel and Betsch—an engine-room of which any group would be proud.

With the solo release November (Intakt, 2010)—his live farewell to European audiences—and his contribution to Hans Koller's London Ear (33 Jazz, 2005)—see the YouTube clip, below—Steve Lacy had already demonstrated that his final year was not tragic but triumphant. Now, this excellent release completes his hat-trick!

Track Listing: The Bath; Morning Joy; As Usual; Naked Lunch; Baghdad; Train Going By; Blinks; In the Pocket.

Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone, recitation; Irène Aebi: voice (2, 3, 4, 6, 8); George Lewis: trombone; Jean-Jacques Avenel: double bass; John Betsch: drums.

Title: Last Tour | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Emanem

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