STEVE LACY soprano saxophone
IRENE AEBI voice (1)
ENRICO RAVA trumpet
KARL BERGER vibraphone
KENT CARTER double bass
ALDO ROMANO drum set
1 - THE SUN - 4:47
2 - THE GAP - 7:26
3 - THE WAY (introduction) KB solo - 0:38
Hamburg - 1968 February 12–18
STEVE LACY soprano saxophone
IRENE AEBI voice (4, 6, 8)
RICHARD TEITELBAUM synthesizer
4 - THE WAY (take 5?) - 2:51
5 - IMPROVISATION (Numero Uno) - 4:38
6 - THE WAY (take 6) - 6:33
7 - IMPROVISATION (Numero Due) - 4:25
Roma - 1968 July
originally issued in 2000 on Roaratorio LP 01
8 - CHINESE FOOD (Cantata Polemica) - 12:11
New York City - 1967 August 31
STEVE LACY soprano saxophone
STEVE POTTS alto saxophone
IRENE AEBI cello, voice
KENT CARTER double bass
OLIVER JOHNSON drum set
9 - THE WAX - 1:22
10 - THE WAGE - 16:51
11 - THE WANE - 9:49
12 - THE WAKE - 2:24
Zürich - 1973 January 26
originally issued in 1979 on Quark LP 9998, reissued on Emanem CD 4004
All analogue studio recordings
Total time 74:23
It is a disturbing fact that most of the major disputes throughout history have been settled by physical fighting involving killing. Have we really risen much above the rest of the animal world? On the contrary, many animals do not kill members of their own species even though they may fight. It used to be that battles were fought in a remote location between two armies that comprised a small percentage of the population. But let us not forget that military fighters, whether voluntary, conscripted or press-ganged, are human beings too. This mode of warfare culminated in the First World War, when millions of soldiers were killed in a puerile macho attempt to solve the differences between branches of the family that supplied most of the so-called royalty for European countries.
That cataclysm also saw the introduction of one of the most horrendous inventions of the 20th century, namely aerial bombing. This continued in 'peace-time' with the 1924 bombing of Iraqi villages and other rebellious parts of the British Empire. This barbaric practice reached its first nadir in the Nazi destruction of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War. Everyone, not just the military, became a potential casualty in the Second World War with its long list of cities devastated from the air – Coventry, London, Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, etc, etc – culminating in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which had to be hastened when it was realised that the Japanese were already making approaches to surrender.
Perhaps the greatest density of aerial bombing occurred during the Vietnam War. People who subsequently flew over the remains of that country have reported that there are unbelievable numbers of bomb craters everywhere. That abortive invasion also involved the greatest use of chemical warfare, mainly Agent Orange and napalm which indiscriminately deformed people, animals and plants. It is therefore not surprising that millions of people throughout the world protested against this wholesale sub-bestial butchery.
Steve Lacy and Irene Aebi were amongst the protesters, their first musical protest being CHINESE FOOD using words by a Chinese writer who saw the futility of war some 2500 years previously.
We were doing protest music about the Vietnam War at that time. Everybody
was saying, 'Johnson. Baby killer' and all that. So we were in WBAI and Irene was
hurling these Lao Tsu texts about politics and weapons and things like that. It
was like political music. The name of the piece we were doing was CHINESE FOOD.
Texts from Lao Tzu, which illustrated the absurdity of war and weapons and things
like that, were chosen.
STEVE LACY (1997 – interview with Lee & Maria Friedlander)
The use of the voice is somewhat similar to the Sprechstimme used in Schönberg’s PIERROT LUNAIRE, although this similarity was probably subconscious at the time. CHINESE FOOD was performed at the end of a period lasting over a year in which Lacy concentrated almost exclusively on free improvisation. It was also a time when he started performing with musicians from outside the jazz world.
CHINESE FOOD was a very important experience for me – the first real
project I ever did improvising with electronics (or with anything else for that
matter). I kind of date the beginning of my artistic life to that and one or two
other projects around that time (e.g., MEV etc.), and think of Steve as my first
and maybe main improv 'teacher'.
RICHARD TEITELBAUM (2011 – email)
The following year this trio recorded some different music in a different city. By this time Lacy had begun to write his collection of compositions that became the principal basis for his subsequent musical career.
THE WAY was the first song I wrote for Irene Aebi. When we recorded
these two versions with Richard Teitelbaum in Rome ’68, there was only the melody.
The harmonic and rhythmic structure took many more years to become clear. RT, IA
and I played together quite a bit, in New York and Rome ’67 – ’68. He was the first
musician to improvise on the first model of the Moog synthesizer – she was the first
to sing Lao Tzu (Witter Bynner’s translation).
STEVE LACY (2000 – notes for first release)
Aebi’s matter-of-fact, yet heartfelt renditions of the song lead into some of the furthest out playing by Lacy and Teitelbaum on record. The two versions of THE WAY were recorded before the two duo IMPROVISATIONS at the same session. This CD uses the same editing, which was presumably directed by Lacy, as that on the original LP.
Around this time, Lacy formed a sextet in New York, and, shortly before the aforementioned trio performance of THE WAY, this group went to Hamburg (with Aldo Romano depping for Paul Motian). Among the pieces performed was THE SUN featuring a very positive text, written in 1948, that made this performance a reaction to the negative war. This performance is something of a tour de force for Aebi, who says it took her a year or two of practicing to get it together. It’s not the sort of text that one normally finds in jazz or any other music – although it could be considered to be a precursor of rap!
There were certain inspirations like Harry Partch, who set a hobo letter to
music in one of his early pieces. When I heard that I realised that anything can
be set to music, which gave me the impetus to try various things like Lao Tzu, for
example. One of the first things I did was a Buckminster Fuller piece, a very dense
piece that goes very fast. We set it like a priest’s litany in which a certain pitch
STEVE LACY (1980 – interview with Jason Weiss)
This previously unissued first recording is considerably faster than the one made 22 years later and issued on ITINERARY (Hat Hut).
The piece called THE SUN has a very important text by Buckminster Fuller.
It’s a litany, a technological litany, a very interesting piece. I think it came
out very good, really. It’s hard to describe; it’s just like the sun. It’s really
such an optimistic message, just shining like the sun, really. It was all written
out, there were no solos, no improvisations. There was improvisation in the manner
of delivery, but the elements were given.
STEVE LACY (1992 – interview with Ben Ratliff)
The Hamburg session also resulted in a performance of THE GAP by the quintet without Aebi. This can be described as a head arrangement or graphic score. A considerably different version by a different quintet was recorded four years later to become the title track of an LP on America (reissued as a Universal CD).
The Vietnam War was still being waged into the 1970s. Lacy responded by writing and performing THE WOE. This important suite is heard in its sole complete recording, although THE WANE was subsequently performed and recorded in isolation.
THE WOE is another story. Conceived in the horrors of the Vietnam War, it
is a melodrama in four parts for quintet, two cassettes of war noises (air &
ground) and voice. (The cassettes were played in the studio.) This piece was the
principal music we performed during the last two years of the USA‘s involvement
in Vietnam. This was the last time we played it. It was recorded (the night before
the peace treaty was signed) in its entirety, and broadcast in Switzerland. I have
no idea what the reaction was, if any. THE WOE is dedicated to Ho Chi Minh
and all the people of Vietnam.
STEVE LACY (1977 – notes for first release)
Some commentators found this music ugly and horrible, but it is supposed to be a portrait of war – perhaps one of the most powerful portraits of that ugly and horrible activity.
Meanwhile, the killing goes on in ever more cowardly ways using high-flying aircraft or unmanned drones controlled from thousands of miles away. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya are bombed, whilst even more repulsive regimes are sold arms so that they can continue with the suppression of their populations. Some minor war criminals are assassinated or sent to the International Criminal Court, while major ones are left free to strut around the world stage.
Steve Lacy and Irene Aebi did their bit to try and change the world. (There was also the 1969 singing telegram NOTE on MOON on BYG/Sunspots.) Maybe this release of their most polemical work will help others see through the fog obscuring the realities of war.
MARTIN DAVIDSON (2011)
The interview quotes are taken from Steve Lacy Conversations edited by Jason Weiss (Duke University Press 2006).
"Not only do the sections of Lacy's anti-war suite THE WOE contain some beautiful melodies, both in writing and playing, but its longest section, The Wage, should probably enter history as a classic freejazz statement. The quintet performs it along with taped sound effects; and the sheer passion makes most other tape-and-live playing efforts seem like intellectual exercises. Against the soundscape of machineguns, tank engines and bomb bursts, the furious playing of the quintet becomes the essence of warmth and compassion. The effect is heartrending."
DAVID LEE - CODA 1996
"Troubled, raw protest avant-jazz, though there’s also a hope for better days in this music. A little known (and little documented) period of Lacy’s stellar career."
FRANÇOIS COUTURE - MONSIEUR DÉLIRE 2012
"Steve Lacy possessed a combination of talents and interests so diverse that it made it hard to see him whole. The best kind of conservative, he restored the soprano saxophone to jazz when it had been missing for several evolutionary stages; he appreciated the collective spirit and sense of voice in early jazz and was likely the most complete exponent and interpreter of Thelonious Monk's compositions. On the other hand, he was a fairly early practitioner of free improvisation and solo saxophone performance and he used his gift for setting text to both composed and improvised music to expand the expressive range of the art song. It's the radical side of Lacy's work that's to the fore on this CD, which reissues valuable work and substantially expands it.
THE SUN focuses around works in protest against the Vietnam War, with text-settings and instrumentals from four different sessions recorded between 1 967 and 1973. The earliest piece is the previously unreleased Chinese Food (Cantata Polemica) from 1967, a setting of texts from Lao Tzu's The Way of Life sung by Irene Aebi to the accompaniment of Lacy's chirping, splintering soprano sounds and an electronic battleground provided by Richard Teitelbaum's synthesizer. The other unreleased material is a quintet/sextet session from 1968 that includes a performance of the title track, with Aebi intoning Buckminster Fuller's The Historical Attempt by Man to Convert his Evolution from a Subjective to an Objective Process against an alternately pecking and carpeting field of sound, Enrico Rava's trumpet and Karl Berger's vibraphone hinting at the textures of Pierre Boulez' chamber works. The group's improvising power is more evident on The Gap, a graphic score propelled by drummer Aldo Romano. The trio with Aebi and Teitelbaum also convenes in 1968 in Rome to provide two versions of The Way - another setting of Lao Tzu - as well as two duos by Lacy and Teitelbaum that mark an early highpoint in the use of electronic instruments in improvised music. Teitelbaum finds sounds that complement Lacy's soprano while creating lines that have uncannily vocal inflections. The CD is completed by a 1973 performance of THE WOE, the four-part suite that the Lacy quintet with Aebi (voice and cello), alto saxophonist Steve Potts, bassist Kent Carter and drummer Oliver Johnson had continuously played during the last two years of the Vietnam War, the incendiary improvisation further fuelled by tapes of warfare. Lacy credited inspiration of the individual components to Anthony Braxton, Buster Bailey, Alban Berg and Lawrence Brown, demonstrating the breadth of his sources, but they all fuse into a dramatic work both abrasive and powerful."
STUART BROOMER - THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD 2012
"If you're a Lacy fan, this is an essential acquisition. THE SUN, contains material from 1967-1974 that shows Lacy experimenting on a variety of fronts, in the process of moving from a period of absorption in free playing to the later concentration on suites and poetry settings. In part it's the story of new collaborators: Irene Aebi and Richard Teitelbaum. On the sardonic 1967 track Chinese Food Aebi's reading of Lao Tzu's texts (about the foolishness of dictators and the long suffering of the people) is almost indecipherable, a wildly sped-up/slowed-down speech-song; Lacy and Teitelbaum's harsh, episodic improvised commentary is the musical equivalent of political graffiti.
The Sun, from an unissued 1968 session in Hamburg, turns a dense Buckminster Fuller text into a throbbing psalm whose abstract multisyllabic glaze generates its own quieter ironies concerning the persistent gap between humanity's 'objective evolution' and 'the residual facts of disillusioned experience'. Four tracks from Rome, 1968, were originally issued as side A of the SIDEWAYS LP (Roaratorio, 2000). There are two takes of The Way, Lacy's first song composed for Aebi, and on both of them, singing a cappella, she handles the challenging melody superbly. There are also two fine Lacy/Teitelbaum improvisations: I especially love Lacy's obstinate, I'm-not-going-anywhere growling throughout the warbly synth hailstorms of Numero Due.
If Chinese Food approaches the Vietnam War through satire, the 1973 suite THE WOE is by contrast almost unbearably angry and direct, its 17-minute centrepiece The Wage collaging tapes of battlefield noise with a churning onslaught by Lacy's group of the period - Aebi, Steve Potts, Kent Carter and Oliver Johnson - before the baleful but more distanced and formal elegy of The Wane ('a sort of beguine', Lacy remarks, featuring a fine early extended solo by Steve Potts). Like a funeral, the suite ends with The Wake, a setting of Guillevic's Massacres.
An extraordinary confluence of Zen philosophizing and despairing agitprop. Every track seems to ask fundamental questions: how to improvise, why improvise, with what materials? How do you get from here to there? What relation does tone have to melody, noise to song, text to context, chance collision to careful juxtaposition? Steve Lacy was among the most self-critical and self-aware of improvisers throughout his entire career, but such questions seem especially to the fore in the recordings contained on this CD, and even 40-odd years later the results are startling and provocative."
NATE DORWARD - PARISTRANSATLANTIC 2012
"THE SUN compiles pieces protesting against the Vietnam war, which also show Lacy's pungent effectiveness as a group player. it reissues his angry suite THE WOE, an early 70s quintet steering martial music into meltdown, over a taped barrage of gunshots and explosions. On The Sun (1968), Irene Aebi declaims a visionary text by design scientist Buckminster Fuller, releasing unexpected musicality from his idiosyncratic prose. Another notable inclusion is the previously unissued Chinese Food (1967), where Aebi recites Taoist wisdom from Lao Tzu while Richard Teitelbaum makes his earliest wild excursion into improvising with synthesizer. Soprano saxophone and Moog are also precariously balanced on The Way, recorded by the same trio the following year and still channelling experimental energy. Lacy's discography is extensive, but this compelling release confirms that you really can't hear too much of such a necessary and uncompromising artist."
JULIAN COWLEY - THE WIRE 2012
"THE SUN is a compilation based around Lacy's anti-Vietnam War music, created with his longtime partner, Swiss-born vocalist Irene Aebi. Chinese Food is the most storied of the pieces here; it was recorded in New York in 1967 and finds Aebi reading (and hurling) anti-war texts from Lao Tzu against Teitelbaum's unhinged, patchwork live electronics and Lacy's screams and sideways twirls. Buckminster Fuller's texts are used as the springboard for the title piece. Tart horn lines move in a gooey orbit with free percussive chatter and Berger's ringing, monolithic chords. Aebi is often described as an acquired taste - indeed, her approach to reciting/singing is a cross between lieder and a distinctly European declamation - but in the context of weighty, far-out protest music, she is a perfectly-applied element. The four parts of THE WOE are a prime example of Lacy's working group of the mid-70s. On The Wage, live cassette recordings of artillery fire are thrown into the mix as well as the ensemble's vocal shouts, driving an already potent hardcore free-jazz unit into a timely stratosphere. While protest art can be hard to unravel from its immediate context, the state of perpetual strife we live in serves as a regular enough background to this music that its political impact isn't lessened."
CLIFFORD ALLEN - TINY MIX TAPES 2012
"Fierce uncompromising socio-political polemic fuels the music on THE SUN. By this time Lacy and vocalist/cellist Irene Aebi were setting R Buckminster Fuller and Lao-Tsu texts to a kind of anti Vietnam War 'jazz in opposition' that feels like a precursor to Henry Cow - Aebi's voice now reminds of Dagmar Krause. But Lacy was also pushing his instrument and his collaborators, with THE SUN featuring exhilarating improv between Lacy and electronics pioneer Richard Teitelbaum."
JON DALE - UNCUT 2012
"Several tracks feature vocals by Irene Aebi, whose relatively straight singing in The Way is gorgeous, but who relies mostly on a semi-recitative delivery reminiscent of Schönberg's Sprechstimme for two politically-oriented pieces which draw texts from Buckminster Fuller and Lao-Tsu. Equally challenging is THE WOE, an anti-Vietnam war suite of mostly instrumental music that is anything-but-easy listening, especially the first half."
DUCK BAKER - THE ABSOLUTE SOUND 2012
"THE SUN, an anthology of quintet dates and electro-acoustic sessions with synthesizer player Richard Teitelbaum, documents Lacy's maturing vision of small bands, the first art song settings of poetry for Irene Aebi, and the emergence of a methodology for electronic and acoustic improvisers to work together.
The Sun features Aebi declaiming a poem by Buckminster Fuller in an operatic recitative style while the instrumental part is through-composed but freely interpreted and provides a contrasting backdrop. There's little of the structural clarity that marks Lacy's more mature writing and there's no attempt to wed words and melody in the vocal part. The Gap is a graphic score and allows the band to flow through collective improvisation, and different instrumental combinations and tempos in an orderly fashion, but it feels more like a composer in search of a voice. The performances are committed and lively, especially The Gap, but immature nevertheless.
Teitelbaum explains in the liner notes that Chinese Food, recorded in New York in 1967 and released here for the first time, is 'the first real project I ever did improvising with electronics'. There is a palpable air of excitement and discovery in the session and a second recorded a year later. Lacy himself sounds engaged by the challenge of playing with an electronic instrument and brings his extended sound vocabulary into the mix. Recorded as the Vietnam War escalated, it is an anti-war piece with Aebi performing the poetry of Lao Tzu in a speaking-singing voice full of nuanced inflections and outrage. Lacy and Teitlebaum are forthright and polemical as well, feeling their way into an electric-acoustic equilibrium of and sometimes harsh sounds.
The later session is worth restoring to print. Aebi delivers one of Lacy's early, but enduring songs, The Way a capella in a matter of fact tone but she sometimes displays the alpine brightness of her voice that Lacy loved to exploit. As Lacy and Teitelbaum slip into their duet, it's fascinating to hear them invent a new acoustic-electronic music, a dialogue never possible until then. Teitelbaum's instrument is limited, at least by current standards, but he finds ways to work within the synthesizer's capabilities. He pits sounds against each other, creating novel sonic hybrids, he bends and inflects tones, creating waves of sounds, little crackling, pointillistic fields of notes. The sound events succeed one another, but there is nothing like traditional melodic development. Lacy responds with his own growing vocabulary of soprano sax sounds, paralleling Teitelbaum's progress, but unable to resist linear development. There are two duets and another version of The Way, and each has its own character, charts its own path.
The Vietnam War inspired another directly political piece, the four-part suite THE WOE, performed here by what can only be described as Lacy's first classic band, the quintet with Aebi, Steve Potts, Kent Carter, and Oliver Johnson. It's a harrowing work, calculated to assault the senses. Its centerpiece, The Wage, uses the taped sounds of gunfire, exploding bombs, helicopters, and jets to make a hellish assault on the quintet. The band sounds tight in an extended collective improvisation, clinging together against the attack and wailing and lamenting like a community caught in the crossfire of battle. Potts and Lacy solo together exceptionally well, expressing outrage, horror, and suffering with shrilling and shrieking cries. Potts is featured on The Wane, and his grasp of how to use Lacy's compositions in his soloing is in full display. Lacy wraps up the suite with The Wake, a setting of a chilling poem by French poet Eugéne Guillevic that's an early example of how he could find the right melody, rhythm, and tempo for a poem to amplify its meaning musically. THE SUN, a seemingly quirky anthology of miscellaneous sessions, ends up being a revealing and insightful collection of Lacy's music"
ED HAZELL - POINT OF DEPARTURE 2012
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