Snakes in the clover

The Steve Lacy Sextet
at the Jazz Bakery, Los Angeles (CA)
24-25 November 1999

This is a band and a bandleader at their peak.


As a matter of fact, Lacy's really gotten too good to be an avant-garde player. Instead of unleashing a stream of dazzling intricacy -- a basket of writhing snakes -- like his bass player Jean-Jacques Avenel was about to play, Lacy gave out with a jazz-age moan, for all the world like Pee Wee Russell, tossed off a short ringing phrase, and proceeded to construct a thoughtful, songful, soulful solo, fixing his momentum on a steady course, like the visionary that he is, while waves of chaos battered.

True, he kept, like the rest of the evening's playing, a tantalizing distance between what he offered and what was expected. But he's gotten to the point where he can't not make sense, albeit in a metaphysical way, and there were even frequent healing hints of Duke Ellington or Sidney Bechet.


The man who was playing soprano saxophone long before Coltrane took it up, Steve Lacy, made a furtive tribute to Duke Ellington the centerpiece of the first set on another of his annual visits to North America, this one in 1999.

In his international way, he did not mention the name of the centennial honoree. The piece, which he called Wait for Tomorrow, started as though it were going to be Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood.

Lacy found the first eight bars sufficiently rich to last him the entire number, however. And the resources he brought to the elaboration were rather awesome, gleaned during a musical life that began in New York with an exploration of the New Orleans heritage of the instrument as exemplified by Sidney Bechet, then skipped to the avant garde free jazz world he explored with pianist Cecil Taylor, then roamed through the realms of Thelonious Monk, Gil Evans, Fats Navarro, Herbie Nichols and other hard core gents as Lacy roamed the globe from a base in Paris.


Tony Gieske (Remembrance of Swings past - complete article