STABS: SOLO IN BERLIN (SAJ-05)
Steve Lacy / soprano saxophone.
Recorded: April 1 and November 5, 1975. Side A recorded live by Franz de Byl on November 5th,1975 during the Total Music Meeting at the Quartier Latin in Berlin. Side B recorded by Jost Gebers on April 1st,1975 in Berlin. Produced by Steve Lacy and Jost Gebers.
SAXOPHONE SPECIAL (Emanem 3310)
Steve Lacy / soprano saxophone; Steve Potts / alto and soprano saxophones, Evan Parker / tenor, baritone and soprano saxophone, Trevor Watts / alto and soprano saxophones; Derek Bailey / electric guitar, Michel Waisvisc / synthesizer. Recorded live in London at the Wigmore Hall on 19 December 1974 by Martin Davidson.
Most apparent, here as elsewhere, is that Lacy is his own best interpreter. Stylistically, he’s always been something of a rugged individualist, demanding acceptance completely on his own terms. And though he’s played with any number of instrumentalists, few have been able to enter very far into his world or to actually feel music the way that he feels music. Conceptually, he seems to have been influenced a great deal by his association with Monk and by his later investigations of Monk’s work. Like Monk’s, his pieces are very much compositions and seem meant to set up in advance the area or areas for exploration by the improviser. The new solo album illustrates this beautifully. Themes and improvisations flow into and out of each other so naturally that it takes some very close listening indeed to tell the two apart. Lacy’s themes are open-ended, multi-directioned, motivic structures that seem to break down (or be able to be broken down) into smaller “movements” within each piece. They are for the most part spare and lean, yet full of implications in the very manner in which they are understated. This is a somewhat starker record overall than the 1972 Emanem solo album (Steve Lacy Solo, Emanem 301/ Emanem 4004 CD ), and has an air (fairly “existential” in quality) of personal intimacy about it. It is no less compelling than the Emanem, but the earlier record shows Lacy’s expansive technique to a bit greater advantage.
As introspective as the solo album is, so is Saxophone Special bold and extroverted. It’s not your usual record of collective improvisation, though, for this is music based on collective “thematic” improvisation, in which each saxophonist shares equal responsibility throughout for the (”linear”) interpretation of the music. (In the Sixties, this type of improvisation was frequently said to take place, but usually only involved one lead instrument around which others placed various rhythmic accents; or else collective improvisation took place based more on rhythmic fragments than on any actual compositional material.) The themes here, to be sure, are broken and fragmented, easily lending themselves to more textural (and less “committed”) soundings. Yet they demand more than that from the improviser; namely, a broad sense of shape and context and, above all, sympathy for the feel and flow of each piece. Generally, things work well, the music being simultaneously spare (space always showing through even in its layered multiplicity) and intense. It’s far from being as “organic” as Lacy’s solo pieces – oddly enough, the one totally improvised piece, featuring only the four saxophonists, comes closest – but that probably had to be expected, considering the ambitious nature of the approach, the number of people involved, and the fact that at least two of the players, Bailey and Parker, were not even in London until the afternoon of the concert (this from the record’s producer, Martin Davidson).
Bailey, incidentally, as on Lacy’s Crusts (Emanem 304), largely reverses the role of the guitar in this type of setting, playing around rather than behind the other players. He and Waisvisz share that function, the latter mainly commenting on the music at various points rather than contributing to its unfoldment. Finally, this is not an album that is immediately attractive – it requires a few listenings – and it was probably helpful for those in attendence (as related in Jack Cooke’s review of this concert above) that all of the pieces played were played twice. There’s much here that is of interest and that is worth more attention than can be given to it in only one hearing.
Henry Kuntz, 1976