Who counts the years ? Opposites still attract.
Not many people own a copy of School Days, a recording made by a quartet including the soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and the trombonist Roswell Rudd playing Thelonious Monk's music. It was made in 1963 on a cheap tape recorder at the Phase Two Coffee House in Greenwich Village, released in 1975 in a small quantity on a tiny label and again several years ago on a CD that has since passed out of print. So the significance of Mr. Lacy and Mr. Rudd's reunion, which started earlier this year on the West Coast and continues this week, may pass by even some fairly astute followers of jazz. But it's a warm, welcome combination, and it works as well as it ever did. The pair play through tomorrow at Iridium, 44 West 63d Street in Manhattan, in front of Mr. Lacy's normal rhythm section of Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass and John Betsch on drums.
Mr. Lacy and Mr. Rudd studied and played Monk's music for several years as struggling young musicians in the early 60's, and the fruits of their research are still intact. But beyond that, the two make a good team because they're natural opposites. The soprano saxophone is a dignified little instrument, and Mr. Lacy plays it dryly; he swings lightly, and you can feel a breeze blowing through his improvising. The trombone has a rich bloodline of expansive impertinence, and Mr. Rudd can play it like a junkyard dog, with ripe growls and Doppleresque shouting effects. In Mr. Lacy's band, which essentially avoids group interplay, this charming, exaggerated contrast is the next best thing; it is a gift.
In Tuesday night's early set, the band played a few Monk tunes, Monk's Dream and the ballad Pannonica; their counterpoint heavy arrangements for high and low lead instruments were superb, showing how much more harmony there is to be dug out of Monk's pieces. Playing the lines carefully, they accented the beauty as well as the roughness of the tunes; when they came to the high note in the theme of Pannonica, which they played as a closely voiced dissonant chord, they blasted it.
In Mr. Lacy's Blinks, which has a theme punched out in a lot of unsyncopated single notes, Mr. Rudd did a wonderful thing: for a while he constructed a solo out of jabbing tones, echoing the composition, and then he suddenly broke into a sound and rhythm that recalled Vic Dickeson - a concise line of swing with raspy edge. Mr. Lacy followed characteristic coolness, with parsed phrases free of agitation; at the end of an idea, he often gently played a group of descending notes that were a little rushed but that still had a floating feeling, as if he were just letting them fall to the ground at their own speed.
Ben Ratliff (New York Times - 07/08/1999)