There were many brilliant moments. But the following remain particularly vivid:
Wait for tomorrow, the deeply melancholic tune from Vespers, dedicated to Keith Haring, was engrossing. Roswell Rudd's solo, very subdued, dark and bluesy, lyrical and delicate, was followed by Lacy's in the same subtle vein: abstractedly pensive, with a few crazy quirks and "envolées", not meant to break but rather to intensify the somber quality of the piece. Avenels solo was slow, intense, enormously colorful, totally introverted, almost heavily and contagiously romantic... Betsch's solo was played, stunningly, mostly with his fingers, no sticks, no brushes, no mallets, ending with a smartly restrained Zen like use of his tiny bell and cymbals. A gem!
Softly announced by Lacy as: "we have a longing to play a piece called... Longing"
this glowing song, even without its powerful Portuguese words (from Fernando Pessoa), was hypnotizing from beginning to end. Right after the theme, Rudd had walked off the stage during Avenels ardent solo... Rudd thus inaugurated his new horn unseen, hidden in the recessed entrance to the artists' lounge, his back turned away from the stage, playing subtle counterpoints to Avenels solo, slowly making his way back to the stage. What a beautifully mellow tone, and what controlled tension! Only one word comes to mind of their duo interplay: WOW !
Lacy followed and delivered a delicate yet quite incantatory improvisation, fueled with the pounding mallet work of John Betsch who closed the piece wailing into his inverted snare drum. The piece was not unlike "un recueillement" (a meditation). It was almost and this is not being written lightly a religious experience. The music was that powerful.
This long version of the tune dedicated to Haydn opened The Door to some splendid musical textures. Pushed by Betschs and Avenels initial fast pulse, Rudds new trombone and his old faithful rubber mute were put to good use in clever wahwahs and sliding warped notes. Lacy followed with a series of surprising twisted phrases, placing a few outbursts of carefully dosed overtones, grunts, and sky high notes
Avenels solo was once again impressively full of amazing virtuoso fingerings, exploring several chords at the same time, while Betschs smart contribution glided into a humorous exploration of the brushes sounds in the air: no contact with cymbals or toms, just a sober delicate counterpoint rhythm with his bass drum. Quite ethereal, and almost eerie. Simply splendid till the last note
Other highs worth mentioning are, notably:
Two other tunes, played every night, deserve a special note: Lacys popular The Bath, and Roswell Rudd's Bamako.
The time to share the quartets daily Bath is always welcome to audiences, as it is a lovely and much appreciated tune, always (so far) the second piece played in a Lacy set Featuring Avenels voluptuous bass sound and Betschs very soft use of his brushes, it is always a pleasure to abandon oneself to such smooth relaxing interlude. What was amusing one evening (Saturday) was to observe the group play the tune, with a fluffy white bath towel lying right in the middle of the stage, next to Rudds lubricating oil bottles: intentional? Probably not, but appropriate? Most certainly (at least for those with an unusual sense of humor). Too bad there was no camera to record the uniqueness of the moment .
Every version of the bands daily excursion to Bamako was a treat. It is a wonderfully swinging tune with a catchy phrase, which opens wide many possible landscapes of bright improvisations, in which both Rudd and Betsch jump into wholeheartedly, have fun, and take us along on an exotic imaginary trip to Africa. Occasionally, but quite appropriately, Lacy threw in a few wild quirks sounding like strange tropical birds calls. Avenel, each time, never failed to make his lines sound genuinely African, showing how much he knows of both hip stuff and traditional African music, demonstrating brilliantly at the same time how to use a bass to create an indigenous mood. Simplement Génial. It would be interesting someday to hear the quartet play the tune with Avenels magnificent cora (his 20 string African harp)
Bravo! The highest praise must be given to Jean-Jacques Avenel. Plainly, his bass lines are the real fulcrum of the band, one of the many possible reasons for the ample solo time given to him in almost every tune. Every time, the audience is mesmerized. True, his sound has always been colorful, warm, and passionate. But his virtuoso improvisations have now reached a level of creativity in his textures, ambiguity in his shifting accents, and of intense lyricism not often heard on the instrument. Yet he remains so badly underrated It is incomprehensible, if not shameful, to see such extraordinary talent remain so unnoticed. He deserves so much wider recognition. It is hoped that comprehensive articles about him will soon be published in the music press, and that a long-overdue CD will eventually be released (there have been informal talks of a duo CD Lacy / Avenel for some time, but alas without any concrete outcome to this date). Unquestionably, he is an exceptional bass player, one of the greatest of today.
And of course, there was Thelonious Monk, whose spirit and immense presence were felt every night, in every tune. In fact, during this engagement, the number of Monks tunes was more numerous than in the past gigs, this time no less than ten of them: In Walked Bud, Shuffle Boil, Off Minor, Bye-Ya, Light Blue, Pannonica, Well You Neednt, Bemsha Swing, Epistrophy, and Monks Dream.
All were played intelligently and delightfully, in the way the musicians respected the true spirit of the composers inventions, and also in the way they went so freely through all the implications of the basic root of each tune. Light Blue, played as a duo encore to Saturdays last set, stands out among them as the opportunity to hear the two accomplices deconstruct and rebuild the melody line in a most sober, tender and intimate way.
And lastly, for those who may have been wondering why theres never a sheet music on the stand for any of the Monks tunes played by the band Roswell Rudd summed it up at the end of Thursdays last set: Its Monks Dream up here!. Its that simple. But to this writer and to many who were present, this was no small dream. It was a dream come true.
Gilles Laheurte, 15 March 2000