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STEVE LACY soprano saxophone

1 - THE BREATH - 5:34
2 - STATIONS - 6:20
3 - CLOUDY - 3:18
5 - JOSEPHINE - 5:40
6 - WEAL - 4:03
7 - NAME - 4:58
8 - THE WOOL - 5:50
9 - BOUND - 1:43
10 - THE RUSH - 1:39
11 - HOLDING - 2:14
12 - THE DUMPS - 4:22

13 - THE OWL - 5:23
14 - TORMENTS - 6:28
15 - TRACKS - 6:25
16 - DOME - 4:58
17 - THE NEW MOON - 4:31

All analogue concert recordings:
1 – 12 Avignon (Théâtre du Chene Noir) by Georg Radanowicz 1972 August 7 & 8
13 – 17 Berlin (Akademie der Künste) [Workshop Freie Musik] 1974 April 14
Total time 79:29

1 – 8: originally issued in 1974 as Emanem LP 301, reissued on CD 4004
9 - 17: previously unissued


Excerpts from sleeve notes:

The 1972 Avignon concerts were Steve Lacy’s very first solo concerts, although he did make an excellent overdubbed solo record (LAPIS) for Saravah the year before. (For ‘solo’ read ‘alone’ or ‘unaccompanied’ rather than the usual music business meaning of ‘very accompanied’.)

Thanks to an introduction by John Stevens, I first met Lacy when he visited London in 1973. He brought with him some of the Avignon tapes in order to try and interest a record producer to issue this music. However, record producers were generally not then interested in such radical concepts as solo saxophone records. When Lacy played me some of this music, I instantly decided to fulfil a long held ambition to become a record producer.

Lacy revisited London early in 1974 and spent an enjoyable week staying with us (my wife, Madelaine, and me) in order to work on this project as well as having some stimulating conversations. [For example.] He had previously selected the material for two sides of an LP (tracks 1–8 in this collection), which we had copied in his desired sequence on to two master tapes.

Getting the LP pressed was not a pleasant experience as there was a shortage of good vinyl in 1974. The test pressing sounded as though he was recorded in a hail storm – there being no drummer to cover up the noise – but that was the best that could be done at the time. [Later on, it both amused and bemused me when certain collectors insisted on getting a first edition, even though it was so noisy.] Also, we received several phone calls from the pressing plant stating that there must be something wrong with the tapes as they could hear some completely different music in the background of one track (STATIONS)! Thus was Emanem born.

Having recently listened to the whole of the two 1972 Avignon concerts, I must say that Lacy chose extremely well, so his original selection has been left intact as the first eight tracks of this compilation. For two of the tracks, JOSEPHINE and WEAL, he decided to combine sections from both concerts. All of the other items on this CD set are complete as performed.

Numerous recordings of THE BREATH, NAME and CLOUDY have been issued before and since. This is the earliest published recording of both THE NEW DUCK, a ubiquitous and multi-named favourite, and the much rarer WEAL. A quintet recording of STATIONS made six months earlier in Lisboa was released in Portugal, otherwise the Avignon solo is the only one to be issued. These concerts contained the only published recordings of Lacy’s JOSEPHINE and THE WOOL.

In delving into the original tapes, it did strike me that there were four short items that could be added to this new collection after Lacy’s selection. Two of these are basically just theme statements of rare originals. BOUND was written to Irene Aebi whose voice he preferred to all others, and originally published on the 1976 solo album STRAWS on Cramps. [You have to get the Japanese version on Strange Days to get a complete reissue.] HOLDING was previously only known on a 1987 trio record with Eric Watson and John Lindberg on Label Bleu. The shortest track, THE RUSH, is actually an excellent complete theme / improvisation / theme performance of a tune that can also be found on a couple of poorly recorded group records made a couple of years later. It certainly lives up to its name.

THE DUMPS, inspired by Jelly Roll Morton, is a tongue-twister of a tune that was played at the 1973 London 100 Club quintet concert, with theme statements that went off the rails. This version stays on the rails, although better versions were to come. Prior to this release, the earliest issued version was the 1977 quintet one on STAMPS on Hat Hut, while the only solo one was on the 1998 SANDS on Tzadik. [Lacy was initially very reluctant to appear in the Radical Jewish Culture series which seems to be based on the specious premise that the Jews constitute a race; he (like me) had had virtually nothing to do with Judaism since he was a teenager.]

The remainder of this CD features the CLANGS cycle recorded nearly two years later in Berlin. Previously, there were just two issued versions of this cycle (although THE OWL and TORMENTS were often performed and recorded as separate pieces). These were a 1976 duo with Andrea Centazzo on Ictus and a 1992 realisation by a double sextet on Hat Art. The 1974 solo version from Berlin included here is surely the definitive reading, with some of Lacy’s most extreme playing on record. The suite starts relatively conventionally with THE OWL which hardly prepares the listener for the surprises to come – the 'heavy breathing' on TORMENTS, the stratospheric birdsong on TRACKS, the pointillist minimalism (with metronome) on DOME, and the rich multiphonics on THE NEW MOON.

A few months later, Lacy was back playing a solo concert in the Théâtre du Chene Noir in Avignon, so there is enough material for another volume of AVIGNON AND AFTER.



Excerpts from reviews:

"This [STEVE LACY SOLO] is the first release from Emanem, and I can't imagine a more beautiful first record for a record company. This record just exudes beauty. It must be the Steve Lacy record. Each piece is so very tight and together. Yet I've never heard Lacy extend himself so much nor use so many facets of his instrument. This has to be something of a landmark recording for Lacy. I can't recommend it too highly."


"The historic dimension of reissuing long-gone new music albums on CD is heightened when it revives music that was before its time. Every night is not a good night, and it is possible that the excellence of Steve Lacy was obscured by the deluge of recordings that started to appear in the late seventies. The first time I ever heard Lacy solo was a marvellous experience, and this brings it all back; Lacy's quackhappy sound and his masterful variations in tone; the lightening runs alternating with poignant silences; the drama and the humour.


"If you have only heard the more recent, understated recordings of this giant of the soprano saxophone, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. Just listen to this seminal album and you should understand right away why Lacy is such a formidable force. The initial eight tracks are a reissue of the first LP issued by Emanem, which was Lacy's first solo recording. Each is a gem: radical, accessible, and fascinatingly offbeat. One uses a random radio selection as a backdrop, another mimics duck warbles."


"A reissue of Lacy's first solo concerts from 1972, now supplemented by other material from the same Avignon performances and an unreleased performance of the five-part CLANGS recorded in Berlin in 1974. Lacy was a fully-matured talent when he turned to solo performance and there's an engaging combination of freshness and mastery here. Employing various strategies, Lacy turns his solo pieces into kinds of dialogues, whether it's a literal second voice (a radio or a metronome), an homage to a musician or writer (Charlie Parker, Ben Webster and Elias Canetti are included) or an extended quotation from West Side Story. His resourcefulness and quicksilver creativity are evident throughout. The opening The Breath moves from piquant reflection to rapidly shifting lines of multiphonics while the newly unveiled The Rush includes a passage of monotone improvisation. CLANGS, almost 28 minutes in length, is a tour de force, touching on birdsong and minimalism before arriving at The New Moon, a varied piece rich with blues, spirituals, call-and-response between registers, sustained highs and a lyricism wistful and sunny by turn. It's a valuable addition to the Lacy solo discography."


"Each piece is - like an origami model - clean, geometric, and wittily evocative of the animal world: ducks and owls and mice all make a showing, not to mention a fuzzy radio station playing Brahms. It's stunning music, expanded with four further tracks just as good as the original album. The killer here, though, is a previously unheard 1974 solo reading of the CLANGS suite, which has some breathtaking moments of lemonsqueezing extremism, as Lacy narrows in on a pealing whistle or split tone. There's little point in expending too many words on music that seems itself to work with a larger vocabulary than any spoken language: if you're a Lacy fan, this is an essential acquisition.

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? It's noticeable how Lacy builds shifts in tone and timbre right into the tunes, rather than their being added 'expressive' features. 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."


"The sound of his instrument was always Lacy's primary interest, and his music was a steady process of discovery. His findings were logged in note-books, and attached to themes that served as starting-points for further probing of the soprano's sonic potential. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Lacy didn't aim for the big resounding statement that would alter the course of musical history. Rather he worked and reworked facets of his art, teasing out nuance and new angles. AVIGNON AND AFTER is a fascinating compilation of performances, some drawn from Lacy's first solo concert, that display his exploratory breadth and daring as well as an eloquent and unmistakable voice.

In addition to eight tracks recorded in Avignon in 1972, and originally issued as the first Emanem LP, this release has four further pieces from that occasion and five tracks from a 1974 Berlin set. Lacy had a beautiful tone when playing straight, but he was equally persuasive when being rigorously unorthodox, splitting, distorting and opening up his sound across a four-octave range. His overall shaping of each piece extends into the detail; there's a clarity of conception, coupled with moment-to-moment control that draws even the most marginal and wispy or raw and harsh sounds into constructive relationship with the emerging form. 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."


"The Avignon tracks - the original eight plus four additional short items - are solo Lacy at his best. The briefest snippet of any of them instantly identifies the player as Lacy, so distinctive are his tone and phrasing. The music combines his trademark melodic themes with soaring flights of fancy. There are also instances of experimentation, as on Stations and Cloudy where he uses a small radio, on the former, to find background music to improvise along with or, on the latter, to provide static. As always, an irresistible sense of logic and 'rightness' runs through everything Lacy does, even when he breaks the rules or ignores them completely. On Stations, the radio is playing Brahms songs while Lacy improvises a melody that bears no relation to them. He somehow eventually evolves this into a theme from from West Side Story before moving on. Of course, it all works beautifully.

The 'after' part of the album title refers to five pieces recorded in Berlin in April, 1974. These five tracks are all part of Lacy's CLANGS cycle, which he later recorded in a duo with Andrea Centazzo, and then again with a double sextet. As is often the case, these solo versions better those with more musicians, with Lacy giving us the unadorned essence of each one. Across the five, we hear very different facets of Lacy's playing, but the pieces all fit together into a coherent whole that remains unmistakably Lacy. ."


"Not all solo saxophone concerts capture the feel of improvising without a net in the way that these Lacy documents do, presenting the saxophonist in full chirp-and-quack mode, in a struggle to create both compelling tunes and an involving, reflective environment from sonic kernels and referential phrases. What's immediately surprising from the first moments of The Breath is that, unaccompanied, Lacy's kinetic force is just as remarkable as his tone and improvisational choices. He takes a singsong, folksy melody and tears into it with resources that alternately express the 'quaintness' of the theme and go well beyond it (a la Albert Ayler). The chance piece Stations finds Lacy improvising along with a radio tuned to some sort of lieder; rather than background, an intense dialogic push-pull is the result. The pretty Josephine begins with a spare clamber, moving to almost inaudible puckering noises and then an easy swing. While less cleanly recorded than the Avignon concert, the Berlin pieces are just as rugged (if not more so by dint of their 'rawness'), including particularly choice readings of The Owl and Torments. There's a lot of solo Lacy available, but this set is indispensable."


"Amazing discs of US sax man at one of his peaks. An expanded reissue of Lacy's 1974 sax set, SOLO. Significant not only for documenting Lacy's first solo concerts but also for launching English free improv imprint Emanem, this is Lacy at his most questing, probing the limits of his instrument, and in material from a session from Berlin pushing things so far out there you can barely picture the saxophone in his hands. "


"Solo soprano sax performances make up a fair chunk of the Lacy discography, and it all started with some concerts in Avignon in 1972. Highlights from these shows are packaged here with another suite that was performed solo in Berlin in 1974. The 17 selections cover an amazing amount of territory, as our protagonist evokes everything from Dixieland to free jazz to aleatoric. AVIGNON AND AFTER - 1 provides an excellent introduction to this rewarding aspect of Lacy's world and work."


"AVIGNON AND AFTER charts the birth and subsequent development of a solo saxophone language, certainly one of the most far-reaching of Lacy's innovations.

Even as Lacy put together his new quintet, he was also embarking on his long odyssey as an unaccompanied soloist. Lacy as much as any saxophonist of the '70s, established the solo performance as an important vehicle for improvisers. He had the foresight to record his very first attempt, two 1972 concerts in a church in Avignon, which became the very first release of the indefatigable documenter of British free improvisation and American free jazz, the Emanem label. This new reissue includes four previously unreleased, but not essential, tracks from Avignon as well as an unaccompanied version of Lacy's suite, CLANGS, recorded in Berlin in 1974. It's the first of two projected releases of early solo material, and a historically significant one.

The Avignon recording is remarkable for its level of control and focus, especially since it was Lacy's first-ever solo concert. Lacy already could strike a masterful balance among sound, line, and silence and he could take his solos from one point to the next with a sense of inevitability that was nonetheless full of surprises. He doesn't attempt to fill all the sonic space, he lets silence play a role in the music in a way that it can't in a band. The music flows without having to take input from other instruments into consideration and each phrase has a natural integrity and wholeness that's impossible in a group. Original New Duck is a tremendous version of a tune Lacy played quite often. He subjects each motif to a surprising variation or distortion, hitting alarming high notes and brusque low notes with absolute control of timbre. Josephine begins with a section of strong linear development, moves into sound manipulations, including quiet kissy noises, timid mouse squeaks, and rusty hinge creaks, and returns to melody with a spritely, dancing tune. Weal is a fiendishly difficult composition with an improvised section that explores different permutations of a shrill buzz and an insistent high note pattern.

CLANGS is a worthy addition to the documentation of Lacy's solo work. Lacy patiently develops the The Owl, playing a phrase, adding a few notes to it, then repeating it and appending a few more until the melodic thread is stretched to the breaking point. The resemblance to bird song is pronounced, with unpitched notes forming patterns and contours recognizable as melody. Tracks begins with a melody formed of little paw-print staccato notes that Lacy then develops into wandering trails of delicate chirps and twitters. Here, too, his mastery of the straight horn is complete, disciplined, adventurous, and original. The New Moon features one of his great melodic abstractions, full of melodies that avoid tonality, astringent cries, flatulent blats, and phrases of all shapes and lengths.

Performances like these remind you of how expansive Lacy's vocabulary was and how specific to the instrument the sounds and notes were. No one had gotten more out of the soprano saxophone than him. These concerts don't sound like experimentation, either. Lacy has control over all the material. Although he's exploring how to assemble sounds into new forms and pathways, he's using materials he thoroughly understands."


"A valuable reissue of Emanem and Quark material. The earlier recording is a document of Lacy's first ever solo saxophone concerts, made in Avignon. Just four years after Braxton's For Alto, it is fascinating to hear Lacy take a very different course, sinuously melodic, less antagonostic in attack than Braxton but no less percussive and definite, and no less willing to superimpose different rhythmic shapes over a basic line."

RICHARD COOK & BRIAN MORTON - The Penguin Guide to JAZZ RECORDINGS, 9th edition 2008


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