During the first set:
Blinks: after Byron's solo exploring the altissimo register of the clarinet, Lacy's fluid solo explored another smart deconstruction of the theme, another humorous blink at the tune;
Moten Swing: Lacy's fast paced solo showed how much he knows of the Tradition, and how he knows how to swing! Blessed with his totally unique sound, this was a real killer! Don Byron, comfortable on such more traditional ground, delivered a nice swinging solo, with lots of nice ideas, showing his impressive mastery of the clarinet. Mark Helias was also swinging, but sounded a bit stiff, with no real flame in his playing; Billy Hart, no offense, was just OK.
Bemsha Swing: definitely "his" territory, Lacy delivered a short, very to the point "monkish" solo; Don Byron played gently rolling phrases in the high register of the clarinet but did not make it feel like Monk 's music at all.
During the second set:
The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the second version of Blinks... Don Byron began his solo using the melody phrases as a base for his improvisation, without being clear about where he was really going with it, pushed by stimulating bass lines created by Mark Helias. That mix was wonderful. But as soon as Lacy started his solo, everyone in the Factory's "Main Space" simply became speechless... There was instantaneous unequivocal demonstration of what the tune was about, expressed in a magnificent solo almost entirely done in harmonics, overtones, growls and quirks, all so masterfully controlled.
"Moten Swing" - Photo (c) G. Laheurte
This was a pretty astonishing solo, probably one of the most stunning in the genre, which made the audience react wildly and enthusiastically. Simply put, it was an electrifying and very exciting musical moment.
Basquiat: named after a Haïtian artist, the "almost" unison duo played by Lacy and Byron was gently phrased, majestically contrasting the high register of the soprano saxophone with the low register of the clarinet. Intriguing, very short and sweet, it was beautifully poetic, and the pairing worked quite well. Undoubtedly, this was their most successful piece, playing together. Maybe this is the type of tune/ musical composition on which the Lacy / Byron association, if it is to continue, should focus its attention. It seems to have the right "soft" chemistry needed to blend the sonic qualities of the clarinet and the soprano saxophone.
Trinkle Tinkle had a nice quirky feeling at first when the theme was played, enhanced by Lacy's familiar angular lines, but the feeling dropped out suddenly and showed no Monk's spirit at all as soon as Lacy had completed his solo...
The last piece, Hot House was played in a fairly traditional Be-bop way and was -- all things considered -- a smart and smooth way to close-up a rather uncomfortable evening.
The bottom line: the Lacy / Byron pairing was a rather unusual association, and these two shows were two rather odd performances, obviously reflecting a lack of practice time as well as very, very different ways to approach music. And quite clearly, playing Monk right is not as simple or as easy as it may seem...
Yet, despite the lack of chemistry between the four musicians (comments heard from fans having attended the concerts go along that perception), and despite having no choice but acknowledge the fact that this was a disappointing grouping (honestly, it was definitely not the best that was expected nor that could be heard) the audience was undeniably enthusiastic... and the "Main Space" was packed!
For sure, despite the feeling of disappointment, Lacy fans were happy that his playing remained sharp and fiercely incandescent throughout. More importantly, after so many years of total devotion to the soprano, he showed he was still thoroughly enjoying playing it, and that "amorous freshness" for the instrument made his playing all the more intense and enjoyable.
Gilles Laheurte, 18 October 1999 - revised 07 November 1999