Steve Lacy Trio
+ special guest: Roswell Rudd

03-08 August 1999
New York City, Iridium

Originally announced as "The Steve Lacy Trio" only, the much-awaited August engagement at Iridium prompted a wave of excitement among Lacy fans in early July, when ads in the New York press suddenly changed to "The Steve Lacy Trio with Special Guest Roswell Rudd". Could this be for real? Could one of those seemingly impossible dreams suddenly come true?

Steve Lacy / Jean-Jacques Avenel / John Betsch / Roswell Rudd at Iridium
Photo (c) Gilles Laheurte

Everyone knowing the marvelously creative Lacy-Rudd collaboration, which started some 40 years ago, was already hyped up about their single concert announced at the Caramoor Festival on 31 July. But certainly no one expected the additional opportunity to see / hear them for a whole week's engagement barely a few days later, right in the heart of New York City. And yet, it did happen, advertised fairly appropriately as the STEVE LACY / ROSWELL RUDD QUARTET.
As reported by the musicians themselves, the "reunion" of the pair really started in California earlier this year (April) during the Trio's North American Tour. But the initiative to have Roswell Rudd join the Trio at Iridium resulted directly from the several meets held in Paris at the end of June:
  • the recording session on 21-22 June by the trio + Roswell Rudd, to be released later this year on Polygram/Universal;
  • the duo concert Steve Lacy / Roswell Rudd with Sculptor Alain Kirili at the Sainte Chapelle on 24 June; and
  • the five-day engagement (26-30 June) by the trio + Roswell Rudd at the jazz club "Le Duc des Lombards".

Obviously, with such an identical line up (i.e. soprano, trombone, bass, drums / cymbals), the splendid album School Days -- miraculously recorded at the Phase Two Coffee House in 1963 with a borrowed microphone, the only recording which survives that period to document the Lacy / Rudd original quartet -- immediately comes to mind. One cannot avoid thinking either of the very few (and all too rare) other occasions where the two men's paths crossed, fortunately documented on the albums:

  • Blown Bone, on Japanese RCA, with Sheila Jordan (1976),
  • "Interpretations of Monk", on Koch and Japanese DIW, with Don Cherry, at Columbia University / Soundscape series (1981)
  • Regeneration, on Soul Note (1982)
  • Duets: Associates, on New Tone (released in 1994) featuring a single tune, Pannonica recorded in duo by Lacy / Rudd in April 1982.

But these recordings document a relatively distant past collabo- ration, and the present one is unquestionably different. Yet, who would have thought that Steve Lacy would someday play at Iridium (the first time was in June 1998) and who would have believed he would return there a year later, with Roswell Rudd, who has been slowly touring and recording again after some twenty years of obscurity?

Actually, it is rather ironic that these two musicians, who had so much trouble finding any work at all in their early days, and who struggled to make a living during the next three decades (Lacy in Europe and Rudd in the Catskills), would end up playing so much later in their life in a stylish / corny club located in the heart of Lincoln Center, and deliver there some of their most stimulating and creative music. The significance of this historical musical reunion in a jazz club known for its ruthless arrogance (shall we dare say abuse?) towards patrons and musicians alike has yet to be examined...

But on with the music itself, fourteen sets, sixty-seven pieces, played on six consecutive nights.

Undoubtedly, the engagement was a positive commercial success, the 150-seat club being abundantly filled every night, with a completely full house on Saturday night's second set, the various audiences consistently responding very enthusiastically to each performance through out the week.

It was also an undeniable musical success, as the addition of such very "special guest" to Lacy's regular trio seemed to intensify the musicians' creative energy, and as Lacy and Rudd make an excellent pair, complementing each other exceptionally well in many aspects imaginable:

  • in the timbres of their instruments: the light breezy wind of the soprano vs. the fat/rough brassy trombone,
  • in the expression of their musical ideas: Lacy's rather abstract / cerebral improvisations vs. Rudd's more obvious earthiness and closeness to the basic melody line and its chords,
  • in the contrast between their playing: the delicate phrasing of Lacy's elegant sharp, sinuous lines vs. the rather rugged and startling blowing / growling of Rudd's single notes or phrases, and
  • in their behavior on stage: Lacy's sober seriousness and his quietly commanding presence vs. Rudd's gruffness and his overt unabashed (almost clownish) eccentricities.

Contrast indeed is what seems to fuel and stimulate their collaboration and their inventions, and ultimately is what may bring the best out of each other's presence.

But there are some notable common links too. The main one can be found in the fact that, despite their well recognized musical adventurousness, both are fundamentally "traditionalists", coming from the same root, and no matter how far out some of their musical ideas may take them, they remain firmly rooted in various kinds of conservative traits. This could be plainly heard in the many Dixieland connotations and "classic jazz" references injected in some of their wildest improvisations.
The second one lies in their discreet "poetic" nature, their love of words and songs giving them unusual "lyricists" qualities, the sharing of which allows them to listen and respond so spontaneously to their partner's thoughts. This was highlighted in the many examples of genial counterpoint interplay between the musicians during these 15 hours of music.

The bottom line is that the tandem Lacy / Rudd still works amazingly well after so many years, and is magnificently complemented by Jean-Jacques Avenel's warm and exquisite bass tone and the attentive and careful drumming of John Betsch.

Gilles Laheurte, 11 August 1998