Recorded in 1977
Steve Lacy soprano saxophone, percussion on (4) Steve Potts alto (1-3-5) & soprano (2-4) saxophones Ron Miller bass Oliver Johnson drums, vocals on (2)
Recorded at Blue Rock Studios in New York City, January 29, 1977. Engineer: Eddie Korvin.
Mixed by Eddie Korvin.
Mastered by George Marino, Sterling Sound.
Producer: Michael Cuscuna. Executive producer: Dan Doyle.
Cover painting: Peter Bradley. Design: Judy Loeser. Photography: Ray Ross. Art Direction: Richard Bangham.
Few tragedies are as painful as the tragedy of an artist unrecognized in his own land. For too many years our most daring and innovative musicians have been scorned, or even worse, ignored. Many have gone to Europe in order to make a living playing the music that sustains their spirit. Only there are they accorded the respect for their craftmanship so absent from the cynical fashion mongering of American commercial taste.
Steve Lacy, a daring and innovative composer and master of technique on his chosen instrument, soprano saxophone, was forced to leave his New York home to share the sounds inside his head. Lacy is a key figure in the jazz renaissance of the last two decades, an outsider from the post bop style who insisted on playing what was considered a limited and outmoded instrument. Bop players looked down on traditional Dixieland music and its instrumentation, but Lacy heard the great soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet and responded to the instrument's eerie, Eastern musical sonority. After mastering his Dixieland chops the young (19) Lacy began improvisational experiments with pianist Cecil Taylor. Six years later he'd become a virtuoso soloist and sought further compositional direction from Thelonious Monk. After playing with Monk for two years Lacy did some work with Gil Evans while forming his own band with trombonist Roswell Rudd (the two had played together previously in Dixieland bands). This group played nothing but the 53 known titles written by Thelonious Monk, an incredible repetoire to say the least.
By this time Lacy had not only proved the soprano sax's worth as a contemporary jazz instrument, he had also been acknowledged as its greatest practitioner. After hearing Lacy play, John Coltrane was moved to explore the soprano and use it regularly as a second instrument, a practice which many tenor saxophonists have subsequently employed.
With this background it's easy to understand why this is a record of tremendous historical importance, for it documents Lacy's first real acceptance here in the U.S. since his 1965 exile, when he left the impoverished Bowery loft he'd been living in for an expatriate jazzman's security in Italy, and later, Paris. This record was recorded after a week of spectacular performances at drummer Rashid Ali's Soho jazz loft, Ali's Alley. The compositions were written especially for this quartet, which features two members of Lacy's Parisian sextet, alto saxophonist Steve Potts and drummer Oliver Johnson, and Ron Miller, a bass player who'd worked on and off with Lacy for two years in Europe.
The music here is pure Lacy - sinuous, challenging, aggresive (Oliver Johnson's drumming is nothing short of explosive) and, especially, humorous. Lacy's avant garde is not the "angry music" cliché one hears most often in descriptions of outside players, nor is it purely spiritual. It is reflective, witty, and, yet, humanist, in the composer's tradition tracking back through Monk, Ellington and the masters of Dixieland form.
It is great American music, and it is finally finding an audience at home.
John Swenson (New York, May 1977)