Sands - reviews

Saxophone Journal

I've owned this CD for almost a year now and I find myself listening to it constantly. It's solo Steve Lacy with some added voice by Irene Aebi on the tune Song.

The aspect of this current Lacy recording that is of great interest to me, aside from the fact that it's solo soprano sax, is the reference to poetry. The way Lacy approaches this stylized idiom, and develops sonic thoughts on the spoken words, knocks me out. Things like Song is a poem by Allen Ginsberg set to music. I am amazed how Steve Lacy approaches this. When you listen to it via note shapes and phrase lengths you can almost hear him talking! It's wild. The same thing on Naufrage, based on a poem by Jules Supervielle. Ditto for Morning Joy, a boogie-woogie anthem on words by poet Bob Kaufman. To me, Bob Kaufman is an inspiration. Just the mention of his name brings a smile to my face. One of the most dazzling of the beat poets, Bob's poems were jazz wordsongs. I found his writing very lyrical and honest. It came from the heart. This tour de force from the straight horn of Steve Lacy is a loving tribute to the man and his work.

The music on cut two, called Gloompot, dedicated to saxophonist Barney Wilen, is sensuous, exciting, and charged with vitality. It is full of sonic surprises from Mr. Lacy. And in an abstract way it creates an image of Barney Wilen. The note choice and message here is vivid! Mr. Wilen was a world class saxophonist who put in time with Miles Davis. The tribute Steve pays here to him is really beautiful. Each note suggests a reality of itself. Another composition chock full of active mental images.

The sound of the soprano sax within these compositions is one of a kind. I feel this is the peak, or creative vortex of the soprano. On this CD, Lacey is so personal, yet so rooted in the tradition of the entire history of jazz, as well as all art. A sonic painter and poet, if you will.

I am in awe over the uniquely comprehensive manner in which Mr. Lacy makes all this work a total package. In this process he makes the music more understandable to fans, scholars, and clarifies his role by just playing the music. These are a few salient features that are obvious from the first listen to his playing. It's a joining of art, culture, people, history, spoken word, improvising, and the musician's personal view. Again, it is a form of story telling. It is also a multifaceted experience, involving both the perception of form and function as the symbolic transformation of human feelings. I love Lacy's capacity to communicate these meanings to the listener.

Sands by Steve Lacy is a visionary release. It is remarkable and profound music. A story of adventure. It is intellectual art of the greatest authority and force. This music offers everything that life has! Buy it and enjoy it ASAP.

Tim Price (Saxophone Journal, 01/2000)

New York Times

The themes of place, belonging and identity are at the heart of Mr. Lacy's most recent records. Sands, which is named after a Beckett poem, is a stark, elegiac meditation on the performer's Jewish identity, or, more precisely, his disconnection from it. (His name was Lackritz until 1952 when he was, as he puts it, "christened" Lacy by his boss, the band leader Rex Stewart.) When John Zorn invited him to record Sands for his Radical Jewish Culture Series, Mr. Lacy composed a companion piece to Georges Perec's essay, "Ellis Island", in which the French novellist characterized his Jewishness as a "question, a throwing into question, a floating, an anxiety."

Where some Jewish jazz musicians infuse their work with Yiddish accents that all but disappeared several generations ago, Mr. Lacy rejects such sentimental acts of ethnic recovery. On Sands he wrestles with the question of his identity against a void, denying himself the consolations of a rhythm section. [...] And while the plaintive mood of Sands may carry faint echoes of the shtetl, it has far more in common with the statety red-and-white canvas on the album's cover by Mark Rothko, like Mr. Lacy a deracinated Jewish modernist.

Adam Shatz (New York Times, 31/01/1999)


Lacy, seul, enregistré chez lui, à Paris, pour le label dirigé par John Zorn, Tzadik. Lacy en solo c'est depuis des décennies un plaisir renouvelé. C'est là que le sopraniste joue toute sa musique, celle de ses influences (Monk n'est jamais loin), celle de sa riche histoire qui apparaît au détour d'une phrase, celle de demain. Ici l'on retrouve certaines pièces de son sextette (la suite Sands) dans leur nudité, il y a des hommages, des souvenirs d'amis (Barney Wilen, Allen Ginsberg...), des poèmes sans textes... C'est joué sans garde-fou, avec une générosité, une attention au futur auditeur qui fait parfois défaut dans les solos. Lacy, en maître, encore une fois.

Sylvain Siclier (Jazzman 42, 12/1998)


The quasi-simultaneous publication of both these solo-albums (Sands and Live at Unity Temple) by Steve Lacy accounts for two particular traits of the sopranist's work: its publishing canon on the one hand and a more aesthetic and poetic perspective on the other hand.

And so, with the publication of one solo-recording each year, we may notice a rather strong tendency confirmed by a minute inventory: these albums, most of them "live", are like so many postcards all testifying to some meaningful micro-evolutions and offering a rather identical set of themes to work on ( the well-known "polishing" of Monk and Lacy). It is the case with Live at Unity Temple which presents us with a cycle of six consecutive themes by Monk and five previously released pieces by Lacy (among which the recent "Absence" based upon a text by Raworth that Steve declaims). That structure can also be tound in previous years solo-albums such as Blues for Aida (95, Egg Farm) or 5 X Monk, 5 X Lacy (94, Silkheart).

The Sands recording stands out on behalf of its repertoire as well as the circumstances of its achievement and so comes close to condensed and mature works such as Remains (91, hat ART ) or Lapis (71, Saravah ). The compositions are original, previously unreleased or newly born and they were caught at the musician's home just last spring.

The presentation of this opus calls for some remarks. John Zorn's label Tzadik welcomes this master piece and its association to the Radical Jewish culture section is due to several more or less explicit clues. We may recall that young Steven Norrnan Lackritz is the son of Russian immigrants - to whom the album is dedicated -, that he went to Hebrew school before being renamed Lacy by Rex Stewart. We may also notice the text by Perec on Jewish identity, the presence of Ginsberg or such titles as Jewgitive.

This cultural palimpsest is completed with some dedications, names of inspiring poets and the beautiful cover painting by Rothko.

From a strictly musical point of view, we get a powerful feeling of fullness, a richness of the timbre, maturity and density (thanks to J.-M. Foussat's sound recording). This feeling - which we also come across in Packet (95, New Albion) or in poems by Judith Malina Poems of a wandering Jewess... - gets reinforced in each piece and reaches its climax in the only duet of the album Song (with the fascinating voice of Irene Aebi) on a text by Allen Ginsberg. The relationship between Lacy and the Beat Generation is particularly well illustrated in this work, with such poets as Burroughs and Kaufman (Morning Joy). Maybe they were among the "young poets" Lacy and Waldron used to play with as soon as 1956 in the "Jazz & Poetry" sessions. The eponymous Sands cycle with its three movements ( l. Stand / 2. Jump / 3. Fall) is based upon words by Beckett and had never been recorded before - and in that respect the cover of the Live in Budapest album (87,West Wind) provides false information - although it had often been played in public. This triptych with its beautiful dancing lines, now and then hoarse with a discreet growl (like sands at the back of the throat), also accompanied by a revival - among other things - of the acrobatic Dumps and completed with new compositions makes it essential to purchase this highly dense and poetic album. A masterpiece in Lacy's "solography" and very simply a must !

English translation: Anne Duchene

Guillaume Tarche (Originally published in French in Improjazz)

La parution quasi simultanée de ces solos (Sands et Live at Unity Temple) de Steve Lacy illustre deux traits caractéristiques de l'œuvre du sopraniste : d'une part dans une perspective discographique, d'autre part sur le plan proprement esthétique-poétique.

Ainsi peut-on observer, au rythme de sortie d'un enregistrement en solitaire chaque année, une tendance assez nette que le recensement confirme : souvent réalisés en public, ces disques, comme des cartes postales significatives de micro évolutions, offrent un matériel thématique presque identique (le fameux "polissage" monkien-lacyen). C'est le cas du Live at Unity Temple, qui présente un cycle de six thèmes de Monk enchaînés et cinq pièces déjà connues de Lacy (dont le récent Absence, fondé sur un texte de Raworth que Steve déclame ici), structure que l'on retrouve dans les disques solo-live des dernières années: Blues for Aïda (95, Egg Farm) ou 5 X Monk, 5 X Lacy (94, Silkheart).

L'enregistrement intitulé Sands se distingue quant à lui, et par son répertoire et par les circonstances de sa réalisation, rejoignant en cela des oeuvres denses et mûries comme Remains (91, hat ART) ou Lapis (71, Saravah). Les compositions en sont originales, inédites ou récentes pour la plupart; de plus elles ont été captées au domicile du musicien... au printemps dernier.

La présentation "matérielle" de cet opus appelle quelques remarques : c'est le label Tzadik de John Zorn qui accueille cette oeuvre aboutie, et sa présence dans la série Radical Jewish Culture est justifiée par plusieurs indices, plus ou moins explicites. Ainsi peut-on se souvenir que le jeune Steven Norman Lackritz est le fils d'émigrés russes (le disque leur est dédié) et qu'il a fréquenté l'école hébraïque (avant d'être rebaptisé "Lacy" par Rex Stewart), remarquer le texte de Pérec * sur l'identité juive, relever le nom de Ginsberg ou le titre du morceau Jewgitive...

Ce palimpseste de signes culturels se voit complété par les dédicaces, les noms des poètes inspirateurs et la très belle peinture de pochette signée Rothko.

Au plan plus strictement musical, une impression (servie par l'excellente prise de son de J-M. Foussat) s'impose : celle de plénitude, de richesse du timbre, de maturité, de densité. Ce sentiment (que l'on retrouve par exemple dans Packet, 95, New Albion, sur des poèmes de Judith Malina, Poems of a Wandering Jewess...) se renforce à chaque plage et atteint toute son intensité dans l'unique duo du disque (avec Irene AEBI, voix captivante), Song, sur un texte d'Allen Ginsberg. Le rapport de Lacy à la Beat Generation est d'ailleurs particulièrement illustré dans cette oeuvre, avec les poètes Burroughs et Kaufman (Morning Joy). Etaient-ils de ces "jeunes poètes" que Lacy et Waldron, dès 1956, accompagnaient dans des séances de "Jazz & Poetry" ?

Le cycle éponyme, avec ses trois mouvements (Sands : l. Stand / 2. Jump / 3. Fall ), est fondé sur des paroles de Beckett et n'avait jamais été enregistré (la pochette du Live in Budapest, 87, West Wind, est à ce titre erronée), bien que souvent joué en concert. Ce triptyque aux très belles lignes dansantes, éraillées par endroits d'un growl discret (du sable... dans la glotte), accompagné de la reprise (entre autres) des acrobatiques Dumps et complété de nouvelles compositions rend indispensable l'acquisition de ce disque de haute densité poétique. Une pièce maîtresse dans la "solographie" lacyenne, et tout simplement un must !

Guillaume Tarche (Improjazz 50, 11-12/1998)

* choisi par Steve Lacy. [V.L.]