September 02, 2004

Chicago Jazz Fest/Steve Lacy

I'll be heading to the Chicago Jazz Festival Sunday; heading down in time to hit the Jazz Record Mart and then over to the Petrillo Band Shell for the evening's music. If anyone from Chicago is reading this and wants to say hi, drop me a line.

The bittersweet highlight for me will probably be the tribute to the late soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, with several of his old playing partners (and more recent stars Dave Douglas and Don Byron). Lacy died of cancer in June, but I didn't learn of his passing until I looked at the Jazz Festival program. Language Hat marked his passing, and the New England Conservatory has a roundup of memorial notices.

Language Hat "can't communicate to you his keening, inimitable tone or explain how perfectly attuned he was to the oddly-angled music of Thelonious Monk," and neither can I. People often think of free jazz as sloppy but Lacy was always neat and precise--like Mondrian rather than Pollock--yet his playing was as beautiful as any jazz musician you like. LH recommends Reflections, an album of Monk compositions; my favorite Lacy will probably always be the first one I heard, Momentum (long out of print I'm afraid). If I could only have one Lacy track it would be "Art": starting with a gently tolling two-note piano theme, it sets a poem by Herman Melville (sung by Lacy's wife Irene Aebi), spinning out into beautiful solos by the band with extraordinary bass work by Jean-Jacques Avenel--like Richard Davis on Astral Weeks. The moment when the tempo dissolves under Lacy's solo, just before the piano and main theme return, is heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Language Hat points to this page of Lacy recommendations, which hits many of the ones I'd been thinking of: Revenue and Morning Joy for Lacy's originals*, The Condor (loose and improvisational) and Vespers (more formal and composed) for songs featuring Aebi, and Sempre Amore, a duo with pianist Mal Waldron playing Ellington and Strayhorn tunes, for sheer beauty. One of my favorite musicians, who I had the good luck to see in concert (once at the same stage in Chicago) before he passed.

*Fact check: saxophonist Steve Potts plays on Morning Joy, pianist Bobby Few does not.

Posted by Matt Weiner at September 2, 2004 06:22 PM