STEVE LACY

FREE FOR A MINUTE

EMANEM 5210

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STEVE LACY soprano saxophone
KENT CARTER double bass
ALDO ROMANO drum set

A1 - SHUFFLE BOIL - 5:15
A2 - BARBLE - 3:27
A3 - CHARY - 2:52
A4 - TUNE 2 - 8:19
A5 - PANNONICA - 3:30
A6 - M’S TRANSPORT - 4:04
A7 - COMING ON THE HUDSON - 3:28
A8 - THERE WE WERE - 3:01
A9 - GEREROUS 1 - 3:44

Analogue studio recordings made in Roma
1965 December 21/22
Originally issued in 1966 as DISPOSABILITY on Vik KVLP 200,
this is the first issue without cymbal distortion.

 

STEVE LACY soprano saxophone
ENRICO RAVA trumpet
KARL BERGER vibraphone, piano
KENT CARTER double bass
PAUL MOTIAN drum set

FREE FALL film cues:
A10 - Cue 15 part 2 - 1:13
A11 - Cue 16: unannounced - 0:54
A12 - Cue 17: LISA IN THE AIR - 0:35
A13 - undecipherable JUMP - 0:56
A14 - Cue 23: LISA LIES IN BED - 1:12
A15 - Cue 24: JUMP MONTAGE - 5:26
A16 - Cue 25: JUMP MONTAGE continues - 0:56
A17 - Cue 29: DINNER - 0:59
A18 - Cue 30: END OF LISA’S FIRST JUMP - 1:02
A19 - unannounced cue - 1:25
A20 - Cue 7: BEDROOM part 3 - 0:55
A21 - Cue 9: FRANK FELLOWS - 1:44
A22 - Cue 12: DEATH SCENE - 1:56

Analogue studio recordings made in New York
1967 July
Previously unissued

 

STEVE LACY soprano saxophone)
ENRICO RAVA trumpet
KENT CARTER double bass
ALDO ROMANO drum set

B1 - SORTIE - 10:47
B2 - BLACK ELK - 10:01
B3 - HELMY - 2:07
B4 - FORK NEW YORK - 13:59
B5 - LIVING T. BLUES - 3:39
B6 - 2 - FOU - 0:07

Analogue studio recordings made in Milano
1966 February 7
Originally issued in 1966 as SORTIE on GTA GTLP 1002

 

STEVE LACY soprano saxophone)
STEVE POTTS alto saxophone
IRENE AEBI cello
KENT CARTER double bass
NOEL McGHIE drum set

B7 - THE RUSH - 5:43
B8 - THE THING part 1 - 11:27
B8 - THE THING part 2 - 7:55

Analogue studio recording made in Paris
1972 March 25
Previously unissued

Total time 123:42

 

Excerpts from sleeve notes:

Soprano saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy used the expression 'for a minute' to describe something that happened for a short time. Thus he could be said to have been into free improvisation 'for a minute' in the mid 1960s, although he also indulged in it from time to time before and after that period.

Steve Lacy’s main occupation in the early 1960s was leading a quartet with Roswell Rudd, Dennis Charles and a string of bass players. This was a band that specialised in performing and improvising on tunes by Thelonious Monk, as can be heard on the record SCHOOL DAYS, first released by Emanem some twelve years after it was recorded and now available on CD as EMANEM 5016. Lacy was, however, no stranger to freer forms having worked on and off with Cecil Taylor since the mid-1950s. He went on to perform with the Jazz Composers Orchestra before leaving New York for an extended visit to Europe in the spring of 1965. The two albums reissued on this CD were recorded during his first year in Europe and were both issued shortly after they were recorded.

DISPOSABILITY, his late 1965 trio record with Kent Carter and Aldo Romano, arguably marks his transition from a modern jazz musician to a free improviser, as it contains a mixture of conventional jazz performances and freer things. There are pieces by three of the composer/pianists he had worked with, and there are also four pieces attributed to him. Carter says: "Barble is a Lacy tune; Chary sounds like something he used as film music, not just off the top; M's Transport was something he was working on, a work in progress; and There We Were is pure improvisation". Barble was his first tune to appear on record, but not one he returned to.

A few weeks later, SORTIE was recorded, with the addition of trumpeter Enrico Rava. The music has been assumed to be extracts from extended free improvisations, but much of Lacy’s improvisation was so melodic that it is sometimes difficult to tell. It sounds to me as if Lacy is playing original tunes at various times. [Victor Schonfield’s 1966 notes for SORTIE are included below.]

The next Lacy group was a quartet with Rava, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo, which met and recorded in London early in 1966. Shortly after the recording session, the producers gave the only tapes to a well-known jazz record label owner to see what he thought of the music. More than fifty years later, the remaining producers are still waiting for an answer! That band then went to Buenos Aires where they were stranded for the worst part of a year. They managed to record the free improvisation album THE FOREST AND THE ZOO, which was issued by ESP. Eventually money was raised in London to get Dyani and Moholo back there

Meanwhile, Lacy and Rava went to New York, where a quintet was formed with Carter, Karl Berger and Paul Motian (an Armenian name pronounced "Mot-ian" not "Mow-shun"). Work opportunities for a free improvisation quintet in New York in 1967 were extremely lacking, but they were asked to make the music for a film called FREE FALL, about a parachute-sabotage murder. The musicians thought the film was dreadful, so it is probably a good thing that it wasn’t released. What was required from the band was a number of separate short cues, each one covering a different part of the drama. In a 1971 interview with Paul-Gros Claude, Lacy said: "I realised that total improvisation was impossible in that case – the imprecision of the musical language would not have fit with the exactitude required for the scenes unfurling on the screen. Therefore, I devised certain limitations of time, timbre, tempo; certain instruments had to play a given part, others had to stop at a given place." Lacy considered this to be the start of his post-free period.

This was the period when Lacy really started composing his considerable body of tunes, most of which, like The Rush, were notated with areas for improvisation. These tunes were the mainstay of his subsequent groups, such as the 1972 one with Steve Potts, Irene Aebi, Kent Carter and Noel McGhie. (Two other recordings of The Rush by this quintet have been released, but the sound on both is markedly inferior to this one.) However, the performance of The Thing from the same date refers back to Lacy’s free 'minute'. In his notes for a version recorded a few weeks later that was originally issued on an LP called THE GAP (on the Paris-based America label), Lacy wrote: "The piece has as its aim, the generation of two ensembles, separated and surrounded (‘set-off’) by duos, solos and ‘spaced’ ensembles. The only things given are exits, entrances, certain qualifications and especially quantities, such as very few things, many things, disconnected things, one thing only, nothing, everything."

Corrections to previous reissues:

The ride cymbal was recorded badly on DISPOSABILITY, resulting in distortion. All previous reissues, starting with a lookalike LP that mysteriously appeared around 1986, exaggerated the fault, making it sound as if the group included a tap dancer. I have reduced the problem for this release, which sounds better than all previous editions including the original LP, the cover of which is reproduced inside.

The micro-track 2 - Fou appeared on the original GTA issue of SORTIE, but was omitted from the early Polydor reissue. The producer of the recent (2010) reissue used the Polydor as source material and attempted to disguise the incompleteness by splitting the second track into two, and moving the subsequent titles along to other tracks. The cover of the original issue is reproduced inside to confirm the true track titles.

MARTIN DAVIDSON (2017)


SORTIE, is firstly a remarkably approachable and enjoyable example of the music known as ‘the new thing‘. For once free improvisation sounds both elegant and eloquent; the type of beauty these players are trying to discover is neither coarse nor bitter and incoherence and accident are absent. In fact tunefulness and rhythmic vitality are so pronounced that they remind one irresistibly of Jelly Roll Morton's famous recipe for good jazz. This recipe was repeated by Thelonious Monk to Lacy almost word for word while Lacy was a member of his group in 1960 – "Just because you're not a drummer it doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time," and "Stop playing all that bullshit, play the melody." Close attention to these fundamentals of communication has marked Lacy’s own groups ever since.

Technically speaking, the approach of this particular Steve Lacy Quartet is of radical importance. True collective improvisation and an irregular rhythmic base were always implicit in the work of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, but this is perhaps the first new thing group where each instrument enjoys equal prominence throughout, and where a fixed tempo is never stated or kept in mind. A further innovation is the total disappearance of formal unity. Not only do phrases lack any organic relationship to each other or to a theme (there are no themes), but the very idea of beginning and ending is rejected. It is quite clear that the tracks on this record were created by selection from a continuous musical flow. Most tracks consist of the finish of one passage and the start of another rather than complete episodes, yet the shapes of such extracts sound perfectly acceptable, the inclusion of pauses and changes of direction adding to the interest and complexity.

However the individual voices involved give SORTIE its greatest distinction. Carter is only the latest of several striking American bass-players influenced by the pianist Paul Bley, a list which includes Gary Peacock, Charles Haden, and Steve Swallow. Arriving in Europe as a member of Bley’s trio, which toured and recorded on the Continent in the last months of 1965, Carter stayed behind working and recording with the Jazz Realities and Lacy, and then joined Don Cherry. A plucker and a strummer rather than an exponent of the bow, he favours the upper register, and works in units of one or a very few notes, broken up by rests.

Romano’s phrasing is equally lucid and speech-like, and equally emancipated from the 'continuo’ tradition. This makes him something of a landmark in the history of his instrument, the first to abandon quite so completely all vestiges of military or metronomic patterns, and to decline to provide non-stop background noise for other players. Born in Belluno, on 16th January 1941, Romano played jazz in Europe with Jackie McLean, the late Bud Powell, and Chet Baker, and then in the new thing group of Albert Ayler. Since 1964 he has played and recorded with the Jazz Realities and Lacy, but mainly with Don Cherry. He gets the only solo of the album, during Fork New York, where one can hear without distraction the delicious grace and clarity of his ideas – always propulsive, but with speed and time-signature in a state of constant flux. SORTIE establishes Romano as probably the most creative, as well as the most advanced, percussionist produced by the new thing.

A like claim must be made for Rava, a confident and often fiery player who uses a less derivative idiom, a greater diversity of phrase, and a technique more equal to the demands made on it, than other new thing trumpeters. Born in Trieste on 20th August 1939, Rava played in Italy with Gato Barbieri and Mal Waldron before Lacy discovered him in late 1965. "Enrico was very discouraged when I first met him," Lacy told Ronald Atkins (Melody Maker, 5th March 1966). "He hadn't had much chance to work, and when he did he was more or less under the shadow of Miles and Cherry and trumpet tradition in general. When he started playing with me the music inspired him to take off on his own, and he did so with remarkable and surprising verve. We are going to stick together because it is a good thing. It is alive and we are going to keep it." Already a mature player, Rava has since appeared with Lacy on Italian radio and TV, and at clubs and festivals, and is now shaping the styles of others (their new bass-player and drummer) in his turn.

Lacy functions as only an equal member of the group, but has an impressive past as a jazz player, and with SORTIE becomes the first important one to make the transition to the new thing. Starting in New York in 1952 with Dixieland and swing bands, he became the first man since Sidney Bechet to make. his name on the soprano. Studying, playing, and recording with Cecil Taylor from 1954-7 Lacy emerged as a leading modernist, and was frequently featured with the Gil Evans Orchestra from 1957 onwards. But his main activity was with his own groups, and his stay with Monk provided their formative influence. The best-known was a quartet, including Roswell Rudd and Dennis Charles, which lasted from 1961-4, and which performed only Monk’s themes. Even when he arrived in Europe in the summer of 1965, as co-leader of the aforementioned Jazz Realities (a new thing rather than a modern jazz group) with Carla Bley and Mike Mantler, Lacy was still talking in terms of basing his improvising on strong melodic themes.

It was only several months later that he adopted total freedom and spontaneity, but the results are superb. Lacy’s command of a notoriously treacherous instrument is such that it makes most improvisers on any horn sound tongue-tied, yet he has not allowed himself to be imprisoned in his own fluency. Crisp vocalised phrases (as on Helmy, where Rava's silence exposes Lacy most clearly) are just as frequent as cascading runs, played with the full timbre of a violin virtuoso, and hurtling intricately along with the force of a steel spring uncoiling (as on Black Elk). Although he matured in an idiom which facilitates coasting, Lacy seems to need no system to ensure the constant variation of his current work. "There are two instructions that I go by now," he told Atkins, "and only two. They are, to keep the music alive and, if it needs something that you can do, do it."

Writing about himself in the September 1959 Jazz Review Lacy, who also produces poetry and critical essays from time to time, said: "I feel that music can be apprehended from many different levels. It can be regarded as excited speech, imitation of the sounds of nature, an abstract set of symbols, a baring of emotions, an intellectual game, a device for inducing reverie, a mating call, a series of dramatic events, an articulation of time and/or space, an athletic contest, or all of these things at once. As this diversity indicates, no matter what you do, some people are going to like it, and other people not. Therefore all you can do is to try to satisfy yourself, by trusting the man inside. I am only 25, and I trust that I will one day really be able to satisfy myself and at the same time express my love for the world, by putting so much of myself into my playing that others will be able to see themselves too." Although he described music to me recently as "a magnificent profession, albeit a dangerous career", I feel that in terms of his artistic ambitions at least, with this record Lacy has reached true success.

VICTOR SCHONFIELD (1966)

 

Excerpts from reviews:

"You did a great job in re-mastering Disposability. Thank You."

ULRICH JONAS - private email 2017

Stunning 2CD package of four sessions that capture the soprano legend in imperious form, surrounded by fine American and European players who are fully tuned into his unique sound world. While the trio, quartet and quintet sessions of Disposability, Sortie and The Rush & The Thing have all of the truly gripping blend of tough, bold expressivity and flinty poetry that defined so much of Lacy's body of work it is the set of short pieces, or 'film cues' for a movie called Free Fall, that is the absolute jewel in the crown of this release. With concision being the order of the day the pieces are roughly a minute long. In fact, some are just over 30 seconds, but they are true marvels of economic, highly focused, but unrestrained creativity, with percolating riffs from the A-list drums and bass team of Paul Motian and Kent Carter supplemented by a series of superbly liquid lines from Lacy and Karl Berger. The time constraints were actually turned to creative advantage. This is an important previously unissued session (as is The Rush) that provides another insight into Lacy's great conceptual daring and technical prowess.

KEVIN LE GENDRE - JAZZWISE 2017

 

Links to other reviews:

anon - DUSTY GROOVE 2017

JOHN EYLES - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2017

DEREK TAYLOR - DUSTED MAGAZINE 2017

COLIN GREEN - THE FREE JAZZ BLOG 2017

 

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