Steve Lacy Octet:
|I do not believe / in my disbelief
that my life was time awake / between two dreams
Recorded in 1993
|Ind.||Title||Composer / Author||Dur.|
|1/||Multidimensional (To Miles Davis)||Steve Lacy / Blaga Dimitrova||6:59|
|2/||If We Come Close (To Corrado Costa)||8:25|
|3/||Grass (To John Carter)||9:24|
|4/||Wait For Tomorrow (To Keith Haring)||4:35|
|5/||Across (To Charles Mingus)||5:58|
|6/||I Do Not Believe (To Stan Getz)||9:26|
|7/||Vespers (To Arshile Gorky)||6:15|
Recorded on July 5 to 9, 1993 at Sear Sound, New York. Engineer: Jon Rosenberg.
Mastered at PhonoComp, Tribiano-Milano (Italy). Engineer: Gennaro Carone.
Producers: Giovanni Bonandrini & Ann Rebentisch.
Cover painting: Arshile Gorky ("Composition", 1946). Cover art: Xerios.
"Vespers" begins in a familiar manner - Steve Lacy, solo, kneading a succession of knotty patterns until a keening ascending line emerges. It's a time-tested device of Lacy's for introducing thematic material to be repeated by the full ensemble, one he never falls to use to engaging ends.
But, the entrance of the ensemble is unexpectedly breathtaking. The supple solo line becomes just one strand in a sumptuous statement. Lacy expanded his long standing Sextet into an octet for "Vespers", and the larger palette has an immediate impact. The flaring timbre of Tom Varner's French horn, and the burly tone of Ricky Ford's tenor saxophone extend the lower end of Lacy's voicings, giving them a richness and roundness the relatively compressed range of the Sextet's soprano-alto-violin front line often only suggests.
As the ensemble pivots through the quirky cadence of a second theme, and an offsetting aside - where each musician takes a turn playing middle G for four beats - before settling into the body of Multidimensional, an inviting theme built on an elliptical groove, it becomes apparent that "Vespers" is a significant new addition to Lacy's historic body of work. By the time the initial ensemble statement is reprised in the seventh, final song of this cycle, it is plain that "Vespers" is a defining work. "Vespers" exceeds its stated purpose of celebrating four musicians (Miles Davis, John Garter, Charles Mingus, and Stan Getz) and three visual artists (Corrado Costa, Keith Haring, and Arshile Gorky), "dear departed souls" who each died "a little or much too young and should have had a better end," according to Lacy. "Vespers" is a credo as much as it is a prayer.
While its core similarities of structure and method with works like "Tao" and "Futurities" are not to be underestimated, "Vespers" is a benchmark of Lacy's evolving strategies in creating multisection pieces. It is noteworthy that "Vespers" was realized in relatively short order, compared to Lacy's previous large scale works; this concentrated process no doubt contributed to the piece's cohesiveness and sharp focus. Despite the formidable economic obstacles of realizing such a work in post-Reagan America, "Vespers" was composed and refined in rehearsal, concert, and the recording studio, in two years. It did not undergo the years-long evolution from solo saxophone suite to a final ensemble version like "Tao" (a 1991 solo reading is included on Remains; a '79 ensemble reading appears on The Way - both on hat ART). And, since "Vespers" was conceived as a concert piece, Lacy did not have to consider the music's relationship to dance and decor, as was the case in his treatment of Robert Creeley's poems for the1984 multi-media collaboration, "Futurities" (hat ART).
For both his song cycles and his free-standing songs, the selection of texts is first and foremost in Lacy's compositional process. His primary criterion in choosing texts in his affinity for their meaning, even more so than their inherent musicality. This process has led Lacy to use sources as disparate as the travel brochure copy that was slightly modified for Prospectus ("Prospectus" - hat ART) and the expansive R. Buckminster Fuller discourse he transformed in his dymaxion patter song, The Sun ("Itinerary" - hat ART).
To understand the importance of Vespers in Lacy's canon, a close reading of his arrangement of Blaga Dimitrova's poems is essential; Lacy found these translations in the Bulgarian poet's" Because the Sea is Black" (Wesleyan University Press). Dimitrova's perspective-bending poems are, at once, mystical and pragmatic, lyrical and aphoristic. Here is a remarkable sensibility, especially given her Yeats-like role of poet-politician in post-Gold War Bulgaria; she held the posts of Minister of Culture and Vice President before recently resigning in protest of stalled reformSteve Lacy was profoundly struck by the poems' beauty, power, and wisdom: his sensitivity to her albeit translated voice resulted in his synergistic sequencing of the poems.
Lacy's affinities with Dimitrova's poems are evident in his meticulous crafting of score to text. It's especially intriguing how Lacy responds to Dimitrova's hard edges and cold facts with some of his most delicious melodies in years. Dimitrova's Multidimensional puts the confounding complexity of the world in blunt, unblinking terms, yet Lacy sets it to a carefree, almost swaggering, theme. For If We Come Close, Lacy writes a supple waltz on which Dimitrova's double-edged insight on alienation almost innocuously floats. In perhaps his boldest compositional move of the cycle, Lacy opts for a playful bossa nova backdrop for Dimitrova's eschatological gestalt on I Do Not Believe. In each case, Lacy's music creates a bracing juxtaposition which intensifies the text.
Though precision is all in rendering the songs - Lacy, after all, received Thelonious Monk's praise for playing his compositions correctly - Lacy's song cycles have the structural flexibility to allow him the maximum latitude as an improviser and bandleader, as well. Improvisation is the connective tissue of Lacy's cycles. In addition to the conventional placement of solos to separate verses within a given song, a closing ensemble-supported improvisation that peters out to cue the next song has been Lacy 's signature transition device in past workSteve Lacy is as painstaking in matching soloist to material as he is when matching music to text. "Vespers" is no exception. To milk the Ellingtonian hue of the strolling vamp of If We Come Close, Lacy taps Ford's dynamic distillation of the tenor tradition. To dig deeper into the melancholy of Wait For Tomorrow, Lacy enlists Bobby Few's bluesy rhapsodic edge. To move from the churning melody of Across to the simmering rhythmic drive of I Do Not Believe, Lacy turns to J.J. Avenel's agile lines and sansa-inspired rhythmic patterns. And so on, until Betsch is unleashed for a final pyrotechnical barrage to announce the title piece.
In "Vespers", unaccompanied solo and duo improvisations also figure prominently. Their very presence is a measure of Lacy's Ellington-like assimilation of the rehearsal process, and receptiveness to the input of his cohortSteve Lacy credits the musicians for their evolution during the rehearsals for the piece's North American debuts in June, and Varner specifically for suggesting Lacy's aforementioned solo introduction. The duets are particularly rewarding. The exchange at the end of Grass between Varner (downshifting from a riveting solo) and Steve Potts (here on soprano; he also hands in a muscular alto solo on Multidimensional) is the piece's most vivid melding of jazz and liturgical music sensibilities; when performed in a church, they will leave the stage and walk through the audience, creating the jazz equivalent of a processional antiphon in liturgical music. Despite its brevity, Lacy and Ford's duet on I Do Not Believe is a fascinating encounter: as Lacy's swirling, dancing solo winds down, Ford begins to stir, countering Lacy's last phrases, before soaring into his own exposition.
But, the signal quality of "Vespers" is Lacy's writing for his voice - Irene Aebi. The often maligned, misunderstood Aebi has a rare set of voice assets that have been compared to Lotte Lenya's by a number of commentators, assets that Lacy's writing has brought more decisively to the foreground in Vespers than in his previous large works. She is winning on the more overtly jazzy pieces like Multidimensional and I Do Not Believe, and she impressively carries the great weight of lyrics like Grass and Vespers.The conviction in Aebi's performance is the lynchpin of this debut recording of an ennobling invocation, Steve Lacy's "Vespers".
Bill Shoemaker (excerpt from liner notes, August, 1993)