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Monday, October 4, 2021

Guillaume Tarche - Steve Lacy - Unfinished (Lenka Lente, 2021)

By Stef Gijssels

What a pleasure to browse through this book on Steve Lacy. In over 460 pages it gives testimonials - and even essays - by musicians who worked with Lacy in various capacities in his life. It's written in various languages: primarily English (70% according to the publisher), French (25%) and Italian (5%). Next to testimonials it offers some interesting pictures, factoids, sheet music and even an overview of all albums that interpret music by Lacy. 

The texts and testimonials, sometimes short, some very long are by Steve Adams, Irene Aebi, Guillaume Belhomme, Etienne Brunet, Frank Carlberg, Kent Carter, Andrea Centazzo, Allan Chase, Alvin Curran, Martin Davidson, Jean Derome, Jorrit Dijkstra, Jean-Marc Foussat, Christoph Gallio, Ben Goldberg, Guillermo Gregorio, Phillip Johnston, Peter Katz, Suzanna Klintcharova, Gilles Laheurte, Vincent Lainé, Pablo Ledesma, Urs Leimgruber, Dave Liebman, James Lindbloom, Giancarlo nino Locatelli, Michala Marcus, Gianni Mimmo, Uwe Oberg, Roberto Ottaviano, Evan Parker, Jacques Ponzio, Jon Raskin, P.-L. Renou, Patrice Roussel, Bill Shoemaker, Josh Sinton, Bruno Tocanne, Jason Weiss, Elsa Wolliaston and Seymour Wright.

The book is not intended to be read in one go, but it's a great publication for some short reading bouts every day, full of personal anecdotes, little stories but also insights into Lacy the composer, the soprano player, the songwriter, and also the person, his dedication and vision on music. 

With humble honesty German pianist Uwe Oberg's first paragraph reflects what was also my first impression of Lacy: "I didn't catch the spirit of their music. I found Lacy's playing cool and reserved, austere, maybe not fast enough. Too little drama, not enough dynamics. And merely soprano saxophone. I was 23 and had never heard someone play like Lacy". Obviously that changed quickly, and he gives interesting views of what it means to play Lacy on the piano, how structure, themes and improvisation so unique to the saxophonist remain intact yet open possibilities for interpreters. He writes about Lacy Pool, his own tribute band, ending his text with the words: "I love to play Lacy because of the intrinsic logic of his music, the beauty of his lines, the vibrant radiance of his sound, his awareness for tradition, his eagerness to experience new things. And of course the unconditional freedom his music exudes". Oberg, like me, is no longer 23, and our tastes have clearly changed in the same direction. 

Canadian saxophonist Jean Derôme explains how he went to a music summer camp in France as a 22-year old, where Lacy was one of the teachers, and receiving Lacy's note books for the day with his handwritten music, each item dedicated to another artist, with a picture attached. The young Derôme ran to the nearest copy shop to copy the books, as a basis to start imitating his great example. Today, Derôme has his own Lacy project, called "Somebody Special", which released an album two years ago with Lacy compositions and songs. 

Dutch saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra tells about how he received lessons from Lacy in Boston, and how the master started playing "raindrop sounds" on his horn, while watching the rain outside. Dijkstra asked why he played these particular pitches. "He answered, a bit mysteriously, 'because they sound like the rain'. I'm not sure if he had another secret theoretical explanation, but I immediately agreed that this scale ressembled the melancholic, droopy feeling of being in a rainstorm." Dijkstra revels in Lacy's compositional talent ("not just nice tunes with a cool harmony, or vehicles for blowing"), offering deep insights in some Lacy compositions such as "Existence". He also mentions that when he visited Lacy's widow, the singer Irene Aebi, she gave him scans of the 50-odd composition notebooks that Lacy penned. All the originals are now available for consultation at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. 

In a very long essay, French producer Vincent Lainé gives a deep analysis of Lacy's music (unfortunately for many of our readers it is in French) in which he mentions an interview with Lacy by Philippe Carles, "qui lui demande à quoi il pense quand il joue - un paysage, une femme ou des accords - le saxophoniste répond: "Non, je ne pense jamais ni aux accords, ni au changements d'accords. Jamais à ce genre de choses. En fait, je ne pense pas en quoi que ce soit. J'essaye seulement de suivre la musique, de rester avec elle, de ne pas la perdre de vue. Si vous la perdez, vous êtes dans le pétrin, vous en faites des gâchis, mais si vous ne la perdez pas, c'est parfait" ("who asks him what he thinks of when he plays - a landscape, a woman or chords - the saxophonist replies: "No, I never think of chords or chord changes. Never of that sort of thing. I don't think about anything at all. I'm just trying to follow the music, to stay with it, not to lose sight of it. If you lose it, you're in trouble, you mess it up, but if you don't lose her, that's perfect"). 

He also mentions the incredible amount of time Lacy spent on refining his music: "Le premier morceau composé du cycle Tao est 'The Way', en 1967. 'The Breath' suivra en 1969 et les autres l'année suivante. Le cycle est enregistré en intégralité en 1971, mais sans paroles, comme l'indique sans ambages la pochette de l'album Wordless. Ce n'est qu'en 1979 qu'il est enregistré en version vocale, soit '20 ans pour lire six poèmes'. ("The first piece of the Tao cycle is 'The Way', composed in 1967. 'The Breath' is from 1969 and the other ones the following year. The cycle is recorded in its entirety in 1971, but without lyrics, as indicated in the liner notes of the album Wordless. It is only in 1979 that it is recorded in vocal version, or to put it differently, it took him '20 years to read six poems')

Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber writes: "Steve was not only a musician, he was a real artist and creator. He had a totally open mind toward any form of music, visuals, film, literature, dance. His definition of jazz: "We want to play like that, never mind the others, we want to play our own way - it's partisan music - we are the partisans of music"". 

Italian percussionist Andrea Centazzo mentions that "in this horrible pandemic 2020, sitting at home without gigs, I had the opportunity to go over about 300 tapes (!!!) which I had in storage without labels, being a total disaster at archiving my work. And suprise! I found some recordings left over from the duo and trio sessions! Once again, restoring the sound, I got enough material to release my seventh album with Steve, entitled Scraps". Who knows what more will turn up from other sources. 

It's impossible even to capture the wealth of information and the depth of the insights you receive here from many people who knew Lacy personally or who dug deep into his music, his philosophy, his admiration for Monk, and so much more. One of the fun aspect of this book is the enthusiasm with which it is written, as well as the creative angles used by some musicians to capture Lacy's essence. One nice example is Giancarlo nino Locatelli who writes a number of short poetic lines about Lacy, mentioning his last words to visitors at the hospital: 'Drop the bullshit and keep the tempo'. 

The few examples given above demonstrate that Lacy's legacy is still very much alive, and will continue to inspire and offer ingredients for today's music. 

You can order directly from the publishing company

A must-have for all fans of modern music. 

This is not the first book written about Steve Lacy.  Jason Weiss published "Steve Lacy: Conversations" in 2006, a collection of 34 articles and texts written about Lacy during his life. 

3 comments:

joe.po said...

... for a few weeks now, I'm listening to Lacy more and more (once again), so I'm grateful for this beautiful hint .. makes me want to do some accompanying studies, like that ;

Captain Hate said...

Thanks for the publisher's link because ordering this was automatic.

Anonymous said...

Nice book, good layout, typography and some illuminating essays.
Also some questions arise. A veeery short contribution of Irene Aebi only and no contribution
of Lacy´s most intimate collaborateur and alter ego Steve Potts.
Still waiting for an "oldfashioned" chronological biography of this unmatched mastermusician.
Anyway a recommended read.

Jo