For someone as relentlessly prolific as Lacy the number of trio recordings attributable to the his name are a comparative few. This two disc set goes a long way towards bolstering the number. With long-time compatriots Avenel and Betsch in tow Lacy affords himself the opportunity to stretch out at length in front of an enviably fortunate Portland audience. The discs are logically and conveniently divided along set demarcations. Both deliver the goods as Lacy flirts with and unravels the melodic content of both old and new tune structures. Avenel and Betsch, both veterans of Lacy’s cerebral style, provide seasoned support as well as vibrant solo passages of their own adding to a palatable atmosphere of creative consensus.
Lacy employs his common modus operandi arranging each of the tunes as a tribute to artistic influence or comrade who has shaped his musical vision. Over the course of the two sets luminaries as diverse as Joseph Haydn (The Door), Stevie Wonder (Gospel) and Kid Ory (Blinks) are each honored. The entire concert is dedicated to French jazz critic Laurent Goddet, a long-time friend of Lacy’s whose suicide is reflected in the dichotomous title piece through alternatingly bright and dark tonal colors.
The recording clarity is very sharp and crisp considering its live origins, though Lacy’s off-mike interactions with the crowd are sometimes difficult to decipher. Avenel’s elastic tone blends smoothly with Betsch’s preference for the lighter regions of his kit as on their lengthy dialogue during the title piece. Betsch proves equally adept and conjuring more forceful rhythms during his drum solo later in the composition. The bassist brandishes his bow on occasion and is skilled at weaving fragile upper register harmonics to great effect, particularly during his solo on “Prayer.” Lacy’s improvisations are frequently more relaxed, but consistently intricate in their construction and his solo sections never fail to stoke the audience’s appreciative applause.
The second set is even more successful, kicking off with a rousing rendition of “The Door” replete with percussive knocks compliments of Betsch’s kit. Lacy uncorks some dissonance during his solo that spices things up. “Flakes” is a prime example of minimalism that works, muted interplay that delights in its precision. Avenel’s arco/pizzicato introduction to “Bone” is an jaw-dropping display of resonating string dexterity that deserves to be studied in depth. The legion of Lacy fans out there have no doubt already snatched this one up, but even if you’re a more casual follower of his work this set is still well worth perusing.
Track Listing: 1st set: Shuffle Boil, The Bath, The Rent, Prayer, Blinks, 2nd set: The Door, Retreat, Gospel, Flakes, Bone, Bookioni (encore). Recorded 11/30/97, The Old Church, Portland, OR.
Personnel: Steve Lacy, soprano saxophone, voice, Jean-Jacques Avenel- double bass, John Betsch, drums.