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Steve Lacy: In Concert

Last night to an intimate, appreciative audience, Steve Lacy and trio, made up of Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass and John Betsch on drums, revealed nothing but jewel-like precision , which is Lacy's total concern and has been ever since he began playing.

The concert began with a Monk tune so fluidly rendered by the group that it proved an easy entrance into the growing intensity that filled the remainder of the evening. The next tune, Lacy's "The Bath", delivered a wonderful lilting and breath of air on Lacy's part and introduced the deeply-ingrained European training of the bassist. The seated musician Avenel ran his crooked fingers all over the strings. Drummer Betsch accompanied appropriately . "The Rent" picked up the pace with artfully sculpted trills on the sax . Lacy stepped out for a huge drum solo by Betsch. I have never seen drums hit with such power and adamancy. This was not Betsch's only solo where his drumsticks created a fabulous vision as he speedily, rhythmically pulled the individual cymbals and/or drums into one fluid sound.

A tribute to a bassist friend entitled "Trace" embraced the next twenty minutes with typically melodic substance, initiated by a bass solo that could have been a Bach concerto for bass viol, given the richness of the bowing and the startling harp-like plucking of the strings. This piece also emphasized the way in which Lacy makes his soprano sax become mellow enough to pass for an alto.

"The Door" began with a humorous line delivery from Lacy: Knocking? Who's that knocking at my door? This piece began to move into a form freer than that of the previous music. Lacy played split tones and made exceptional moves on his sax, proving his mastery of the instrument..he even pushed pitched air through the horn..(this reminded me of McPhee on tenor in a concert I had seen earlier this year). Lacy squeezed out high pitched notes with such clarity that you really had to question whether the horn had the capacity to be played in this way. Avenel demonstrated his versatility with his finger-slapping of the strings on the neck of the bass enhancing the quality of the sounds that can be pulled out of this instrument.

The second set, which you could not imagine as the plan after one hour and a half of music before it, started off with the piece resulting from Lacy's being inspired by African postcards, called "Cliches". Avenel used miked calimba to set the pattern for Lacy's Coltranesque arpeggiation...that was really beautiful. Betsch came through again with a tremendous drum statement, which simply pushed one's mind aside into the inescapable beating of the percussion...Betsch often closed his eyes throughout the concert which told me that he was totally focused on his place in the tunes and,given a couple of smiles, his thorough enjoyment in listening to the other instruments.

"A Bright Pearl" , for the late Denis Charles, revealed tenderness towards and deep regret for the loss of the saxophonist in a beautiful melodious tune where all three musicians were balanced and even. A clicking of the drums at the bass displayed the Latin beat that structured "I Believe" that followed the tribute to Charles.

In the next piece, "Absence" there was a pleasant change from the way in which Lacy seems to compose his seemingly traditional melodies. Lacy began the tune speaking a poem.There was far more variation in the way the horn was utilized: that is, he did not play the horn going up and down the register with an accent on the high note. He enriched this quiet, endearing piece with a roundness in the sound, once again, interspersing the sometimes squeaky quality of the notes with rich, mellow tones. Betsch softened the drums by using brushes, creating a hush that brought tears to my eyes.

The closing work dedicated to Johnny Hodges enlivened the room with an upbeat and sometimes playful music that brought the house to its feet. The ending to this piece was terrific ...Betsch charged on a drum solo, interrupted by starkly delivered notes on the sax that beckoned him home.... This piece, as did most of the others, ended conclusively. Down the line, drums, bass and horn coming to a stop that you knew was going to come. All of sudden, you were just there. No doubts. The way that Lacy scheduled it...precisely known, felt, stated.

I greatly appreciated Lacy...he embodies a formalism, very basic, very controlled; his soul ekes out through the lines of his forehead as they are crunched in determination when he plays. His body moves little, he keeps the beat without much show except for the tapping of his fingers, folded in clasped hands in front of his body as he listens to his partners. The most Lacy's body got into the groove was with one hip swing towards the end of the concert . Lacy is a truly conceptual jazz musician and composer, committed to his voice. And necessarily so in this time when we need to focus and believe in how our hearts speak to us. The second set, which you could not imagine as the plan after one hour and a half of music before it, started off with the piece resulting from Lacy's being inspired by African postcards, called "Cliches". Avenel used miked calimba to set the pattern for Lacy's Coltranesque arpeggiation...that was really beautiful. Betsch came through again with a tremendous drum statement, which simply pushed one's mind aside into the inescapable beating of the percussion...Betsch often closed his eyes throughout the concert which told me that he was totally focused on his place in the tunes and,given a couple of smiles, his thorough enjoyment in listening to the other instruments.

"A Bright Pearl" , for the late Denis Charles, revealed tenderness towards and deep regret for the loss of the saxophonist in a beautiful melodious tune where all three musicians were balanced and even. A clicking of the drums at the bass displayed the Latin beat that structured "I Believe" that followed the tribute to Charles.

In the next piece, "Absence" there was a pleasant change from the way in which Lacy seems to compose his seemingly traditional melodies. Lacy began the tune speaking a poem.There was far more variation in the way the horn was utilized: that is, he did not play the horn going up and down the register with an accent on the high note. He enriched this quiet, endearing piece with a roundness in the sound, once again, interspersing the sometimes squeaky quality of the notes with rich, mellow tones. Betsch softened the drums by using brushes, creating a hush that brought tears to my eyes.

The closing work dedicated to Johnny Hodges enlivened the room with an upbeat and sometimes playful music that brought the house to its feet. The ending to this piece was terrific ...Betsch charged on a drum solo, interrupted by starkly delivered notes on the sax that beckoned him home.... This piece, as did most of the others, ended conclusively. Down the line, drums, bass and horn coming to a stop that you knew was going to come. All of sudden, you were just there. No doubts. The way that Lacy scheduled it...precisely known, felt, stated.

I greatly appreciated Lacy...he embodies a formalism, very basic, very controlled; his soul ekes out through the lines of his forehead as they are crunched in determination when he plays. His body moves little, he keeps the beat without much show except for the tapping of his fingers, folded in clasped hands in front of his body as he listens to his partners. The most Lacy's body got into the groove was with one hip swing towards the end of the concert . Lacy is a truly conceptual jazz musician and composer, committed to his voice. And necessarily so in this time when we need to focus and believe in how our hearts speak to us.

One of our newest staff writers, Lyn Horton is a visual artist, whose work is in collections throught the country (images of her work can be seen at http://www.artincontext.org/artist/h/lyn_horton); she received her MFA, and BFA from California Institute of the Arts.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Steve Lacy
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