This welcome reissue fills a gap in Steve Lacy's recorded career from the days when he was exploring free music. These tracks, from two live dates in 1973 and 1974, capture Lacy's music at an arch, shambolic, querulous, clangorous point from which he slowly, steadily retreated. For evidence just compare the flame-throwing versions of "Flakes" here and on 1987's The Window
, or, to throw the difference into even sharper relief, this take of "Revolutionary Suicide" with the one on 1995's Actuality
. Nevertheless, what this disc lacks in gloss and precision it more than makes up for in candor and authenticity. No Lacy fan will want to miss it.
The first three tracks total only a little more than twenty minutes, yet they are credited as (the whole of?) the semi-legendary album Saxophone Special, recorded on July 30, 1973. Lacy was there on soprano sax with his longtime partner Steve Potts on soprano and alto; rounding out the quintet were bassist Kent Carter and two titans of the English free scene, guitarist Derek Bailey and percussionist John Stevens. Lacy and Potts (especially Potts, who solos first and more lengthily) take the fore with an early version of the discursive quarrels that would fill so many subsequent Lacy albums. Here the sound is rawer. There are a few long moments and more than a few bright ones, especially on "38." Bailey adds a bit of cross-cutting atmospherics after his fashion, and there we are.
The real treat of this disc is the saxophone quartet assembled on December 19, 1974 to record the last six tracks, which were also released as a (more substantial, although unnamed in the liner notes) separate LP. Lacy and Potts are joined by Trevor Watts on soprano and alto and Evan Parker on soprano, tenor, and baritone. (This is the only recorded appearance by Parker on a saxophone other than tenor or soprano. He mostly plays a repetitive riff). Bailey is around again too, along with Michel Waisvisz on synthesizer - they're there, according to Lacy in the liners, to provide "noise," and they do. "Staples" especially is full of circus whistles and other froufrou. But the real action is between the saxophonists, who despite a general lack of rehearsal are able to tackle Lacy's material with spiritedness and vigor.
The voices aren't really hard to separate, since each is so distinctive by this time in their careers. There is relatively little flat-out "now I can kill you" free screaming for the period of the recording (although there is a bit on "Dreams" and other tracks), and the quieter sections offer from close listening and careful counterpoint by the saxophonists, especially Parker.
This is an important historical document (the first all-soprano quartet on "Sops"!) and is, although uneven, full of musical rewards.