Steve Lacy Three:
N.Y. Capers & Quirks
Recorded in 1979
Note: some tracks of the LPs original edition had "too many dropouts" to be released again: The Crunch (12'35), part of We Don't (23 min) and Bud's Brother (12 min).
Recorded live on December 28, 1979 at Soundscape, NYC (USA) during the European/American Music Festival. Engineer: Peter Kuhn. Concert produced by Verna Gillis in New York City.
Edited by Peter Pfister & Werner X. Uehlinger.
Mastered by David Crawford.
Mixed and CD-mastered by Peter Pfister.
Producers: Pia & Werner X. Uehlinger.
Cover photo: Jean-Paul Brun. Graphic concept: fuhrer vienna.
There are lines, and there are lines. Some are visible, some aural, some merely threads of thought. If we chose to, we could consider this reissue of a 1979 Steve Lacy Trio concert recording along any of several (conceptual or contextual) lines, from analytical to historical for example, by simply pointing out that this concert was a reunion between Lacy and drummer Dennis Charles (they worked together in Cecil Taylor's quartet circa 1956-57 and recorded as members of Gil Evans' orchestra in 1959; Charles was the drummer on Lacy's debut as a leader, Soprano Sax, in 1957 and was in the legendary early '60s Lacy/Rudd band that concentrated solely on Monk tunes, heard on School Days, hatArt 6140) we can draw a line across the chasms of time (twenty-three years), experience (what did they bring to this trio that was different from their early opportunities?), and speculation (what happened to the "lost" tapes they recorded for Columbia and Verve, presumably in 1964, and how might history have been altered if they had been issued?) that may influence the way we hear this music, at this writing another twenty years down the road.
The road itself is a line a metaphor which signifies the path (one direction among many possible directions) a process must take from one point of being, or awareness, to another. Thus the implicit sense of progress made from a (theoretical) start, anywhere along the road, any road, towards a real or imagined goal. But in artistic terms this process, outlining the activity, can become the object itself, and the line its own vehicle for expression and its form. This is certainly true in visual art, where the line indicates and identifies shape and sensibility. In music, we add motion, and speak of the melodic line reflecting the dictates of tempo, tone, contour, and rhythmic emphasis that move the music from start to finish. And poetry combines both of the above visual image and sound.
There is a story concerning a young painter who went to the French poet Paul Valery and told him that he was writing a sonnet, but couldn't complete it because he ran out of ideas. Valery is said to have responded, "Poetry isn't made of ideas, it's made of words." The American poet William Carlos Williams once said, "Anything, if it is sufficiently authentic, is capable of being organized into a form which can be a poem." We experience poetry as words, organized into a form that resembles a poem initially visual, as lines of various lengths. The words may suggest images to our mind's eye according to our agreement of language, but in themselves contain actual sounds, which when extended forge a rhythm, and you have music.
Having set so much poetry of various styles to his own musical lines, Steve Lacy has an exceptional knowledge of (intellect) and feel for (intuition) the qualities and characteristics of verse. He is aware that words exhibits not only sound, but weight, shape, density, texture. Why think about poetry in a totally instrumental program? When transforming poems into songs, Lacy gives the words to a voice to articulate, but he plays them on his saxophone as well. This means that he must regulate his breathing to accommodate the phrasing of the poetic line a line which in itself may have been determined according to various factors, including the visual impulse of the statement on paper, the unfolding drama the words may convey, an expression of a distinct unit of thought, the musicality of syntax, and even, as Charles Olson suggested, the breath patterns of the poet as influenced by the energy transfer of thoughts into language organized as poetry. If poetry is as natural to Lacy as breathing, then it must have entered his psyche to the point where it may, in turn, influence in some way the thought patterns that emerge as music, even that composed (or improvised) unconnected to words.
If there is an implicit link between poetic line and musical line in Lacy's improvising, it is not necessarily in the sense of vocalization (sounds as sung), but in an internalized formality of measure. There is a notable difference in these five tunes between the "heads" of the compositions and the subsequent improvisations the opening sections are often blocks of repeated lines, almost stanzas, which in the solos are radically elaborated or disintegrated, with a great diversity of tempos, textures, and rhythms. If the improvisation sections allow the musicians the freedom to spontaneously reconfigure and redefine the musical line, their choices are in part motivated by the tacit understanding that, as Robert Creeley wrote to Olson, "Form is the extension of content," meaning, in this case, an awareness of how their shifting relationships organize the measure of the music. Composed spontaneously or premeditated, via music or poetry, this awareness of creative measure reflects one's sense of control and subsequent behavior just as, for Williams, the measure of one's (poetic) line is also the "measure of the man."
The nature of the poetic line may be as ambiguous as music in its measure that is, organized to suggest rather than specify, to engage rather than explain, to resist obvious meaning rather than reveal. (In their writing, the ancient Greeks left no spaces between the words in any given line.) Williams felt that the advantages of free verse (lines composed without a predetermined number of syllables, placement of accents, or regulated rhyme) were to register more accurately and give more play "to the mind in its excursions." In this way, the line poetic or musical is not just a chain of words or sounds, but a measure of the transformational, organizational process that blends thought, impulse, and activity into an artistic expression. For Lacy, the process involves extending an individual sound into lines through various techniques including melodic paraphrase, thematic variation, juxtaposition of new material, thickening or thinning the sound, altering its tone color, rhythmic placement or accentuation. The musical effect of Lacy's improvised lines is no different from the composed poetic an accumulation of dramatic tension and its release, the integration of distinct thought fragments into a cohesive entity, the isolation or interplay of complex perspectives, an illumination of subtle connections and relationships, an escape from the singular reality of time and space, a story told through description and evocation.
There are lines, and there are lines. The line may not be a sentence or a sketch. It is not strictly horizontal, neither uniformly continuous nor episodic. In the hands of accomplished artists, it engenders its own character, pulse, motion, shape, identity. It cuts its own capers, celebrates its quirks. The line is in all cases a possibility, to be determined, as always, according to need. There's more here than meets the eye, or ear.
Art Lange, April 1999 (liner notes)