The adventure continues. Started in mid-1998 - first at the Dumaurier Theatre in Toronto (in June) then at the Caramoor Jazz Festival in Katona (in August) – Lacy’s association with Panamanian-born pianist Danilo Perez has been a happy and exciting relationship from their very first encounter.

At every reunion over the past six years, "Duets" has continually shown the deep chemistry that exists between these two brilliant improvisers, a chemistry that consistently results in inspired performances and renewed mutual vows to continue their musical association. Their first performances together a few years ago made the audiences react with warm enthusiasm. Last years’ engagement at Sweet Rhythm (in May 2003) was voted by several Jazz critics (All About Jazz/New York) as one of the best and most memorable gigs of the year. And this recent reunion at Zankel Hall probably will too.

The first part of the concert featured the Danilo Perez Trio, playing what appeared to be a recently composed suite comprised of five distinct pieces, almost entirely scored - judging from the abundant sheet music spread out in front of each musician - leaving very little space for solo improvisations. The audience reacted rather politely.

As the evening’s program was being performed without intermission, the transition to the much-awaited duo took place without fanfare… From the first few bars, it was clear this second part was going to be a very different musical experience. The fiery introductory piece, The Hoot (dedicated to John Gilmore), memorable for its repeated series of descending chords, immediately revealed the closeness of the partnership, both artists so in tune with each other, Perez totally attentive to every sound exhaled out of the golden soprano, Lacy attentively listening to Perez’ clever keyboard inventions based on wide-spaced variations of the main chords. After this initial fire, in contrast, gentle airy poetry flew out of Flakes, a disarmingly simple pentatonic phrase yet complex in its smart subtle changes, kind of obsessively repeated, that always allows Lacy to cover freely the full range of the soprano. This time, he blew out delicate little squirts, developing them into a luminous abstract solo turning into smooth, long phrases descending to a very soft and voluptuous low Bb, flying all the way back up there in the sky as snow flakes would in the wind, while in contrast Perez kept his counterpoints in a classical deconstruction of the tune, in which the spirit of Thelonious Monk could be felt.

Two tunes by Danilo Perez followed, gently announced by Lacy. The first (untitled) was played mostly in unison, with a short but very tender piano solo leading directly into the second tune, Love in Five, which featured a delicate and attentive interplay between piano and soprano, very incandescent and poetic.

For the next tune, Deadline (written in 1975 during his first tour in Japan), Lacy explained to the audience his choice for such title and how it came to be. Through eight accelerated repeats, he brought the intriguing piece to a medium speed only, before releasing its energy into quirky warped notes, full of humor, climbing up and down the soprano’s register as if on a ladder, letting Perez abandon himself into a sort of as-of-yet unexplored Debussian mood, caressing the keyboard with his left hand and stomping the floor with his right foot.

Esteem (for Johnny Hodges) surprised the audience with Lacy starting the piece walking on stage, playing off mike, away from the piano, soon bringing the tune to the soprano’s altissimo register in a single bounce (from middle E1 to high E4), a perfect jump and one of his most perilous technical trademarks on the instrument. Lacy’s solo was very solemn, shining like a bright light, full of reverence for its dedicatee, while Perez colorfully plucked the strings inside the gorgeous sounding Steinway, bringing into his own solo a few Japanese chords and scales, before they concluded the piece in an extremely soft and tender whisper.

To close the concert, the always energetic and rhythmic Blinks was quickly rephrased into bits and pieces of the tune shortly after the theme had been played, soon leaving Perez alone, buoyant in joyful right hand / left hand counterpoints, obviously stimulated by the challenge of Lacy’s insistent teasing squirts up to the reprise of the tune’s hopping rhythm, bringing the concert to a surprising close.

The music was captivating as always, and the two musicians were openly radiant – for very good reasons. So was the audience, or most of it. For the younger crowd and the real fans, thrill was in their words, with the outspoken commitment to not miss the next episode of this exciting “Duets” adventure. However, a small minority – definitely middle-aged (and above), visibly well-to-do, clearly attending the concert as part of their subscription series – was rather perplexed, and really did not know what to make of these brilliant yet seemingly unorthodox “Duets.” As a case in point, the following dialogue was overheard after the show between a few elegantly dressed senior citizens:

- What kind of music was that?
- Well, I think that’s what they call experimental jazz. And if this is what it was, well… that’s what it is…
- What kind of instrument was this guy playing, anyway?
- I am not sure. But I think it is called a soprano saxophone…

Obviously, these well-meaning patrons had not read the evening’s program – although short and to the point, with an input by Howard Mandel - and most likely may not have understood the beauty and originality of the music. But at least, they stayed through the entire concert and heard something provocative to their ears. Hopefully, all of these nice people will remember what a soprano saxophone looks like and can sound like. But… will they ever realize WHO was the legend they had come to hear?

© Gilles Laheurte, 14 February 2004

The Tunes:

Part 1 – The Danilo Perez Trio

Danilo Perez, piano; Adam Cruz, Drums; Ben Street, double bass
- 5 tunes, titles unknown (all by Danilo Perez)

Part 2 - Danilo Perez - Steve Lacy Duets

  1. The Hoot (Lacy)
  2. Flakes (Lacy)
  3. Untitled, and Love in Five (Perez)
  4. Deadline (Lacy)
  5. Esteem (Lacy)
  6. Blinks (Lacy)