A night of Duos: Steve Lacy & Irene Aebi + a sculpture by Alain Kirili

Concert at the Knitting Factory, New York
13 April 1995

It was something not to be missed: a one show only, at 10 p.m. on 13 April 1995, at the Knitting Factory in New York, entitled "A NIGHT OF DUOS" + a Sculpture by Alain Kirili. It was a long overdue opportunity / musical event for us living in this part of the world, frustrated by our never ending need (addiction?) to attend Steve Lacy's concerts more frequently.

Steve's last public performance in NY had taken place in early July 1993, when VESPERS was recorded, and when his sextet played at Sweet Basil (Steve Potts was out sick for several nights). He had been back for a one night masterclass at the New School in the fall, but this had not been widely publicized. So, pretty much like "les must" de Cartier, this was definitely "a must" de Steve Lacy!

I was there at 8 p.m., just to make sure to get the best seats in the house, and have time to chat with some other Lacy fans/ friends who, as if by miracle or ESP, never fail to regroup at every Lacy concert in NY.

The evening at the Factory was split in two shows: the first one was some kind of mix - at best mildly interesting - of live/pre-recorded music/ electronics/ noise makers/ percussions by a duo led by Sam Bennet. So much for that...

The rest of the evening with Steve was quite special, as it became a series of "firsts" to a small fortunate NY/USA audience, and as it conveyed a feeling of gentle warmth and "intimité" that is probably rarely found in a wild place/ musical context such as the Factory...

Series of Firsts for the NY audience:

Just a few minutes before 10 p.m., Steve arrived with Irene and I immediately noticed that he had a new grey case which indicated that he had changed his soprano: this was the unmistaken look of the new SELMER series III case... (I have one too). So we were to hear Steve for the first time in NY with his new horn!
He came on stage quietly, almost shyly, and alone. He put down his folding Spyder Soprano stand (which I have seen him rarely use, in fact) and warmed-up his instrument (yes, it was the new SELMER!), turning his back to the audience. Then he opened the set, solo, with four Monk compositions (Epistrophy, Evidence, and I unfortunately forgot the other two... sorry!). Would you believe that there was actually silence in the bar, so mesmerized were we all (or so it seemed to me.. maybe I simply didn't hear the cash register???).

He played walking around the stage, around the Alain Kirili's sculpture(s), made of - if my memory doesn't fail me-five or six separate vertical different compositions, of various heights, made of welded steel painted with an off-white glossy enamel. There were placed like menhirs in a Neolithic monument. The stage set-up and the angular shape of each element helped create shades in the tone of the music, tricky turns and sonic surprises.

Steve Lacy among the elements of "Nord/sud" at Fête de l'Huma, La Courneuve - september 1997
Photo © Vincent Lainé

Then Irene joined him on stage. They played - again, if my memory doesn't fail me, as I don't take notes nor take photographs - about 12 songs, some of which had not yet been played in public but were "works in progress", whose titles I also unfortunately do not remember (now I regret not having jotted them down on a piece of paper...). This was the time for two other "firsts":
- Steve put his reading glasses to look at the music sheets / ../Play/Scores and, because most of the songs were new, HAD to keep his reading glasses on while playing: I do not recall any previous occasion where this has happened (in NY, that is!!);
- Steve and Irene very gently hugged each other on stage at the end of the set, which I do not recall ever seeing before (again, in NY! maybe this is more frequent in Europe?). This was truly a touching sight, full of warmth and love.

The songs were each like separate little dramas: after the opening and interplay soprano/voice, Steve went to improvise alone, while Irene, quietly and very discreetly, remained in the background, partly hidden behind one or two sculpture elements, only to return promptly to the front stage for the reprise. At times this created a few anxious moments when the proper page of the score could not be found again immediately... But this added - quite simply - more tension and drama to the text of the poems and made it a more exciting event. The combination of tension and yet paradoxally relaxed/natural presence of the artists commanded sustained attention.

On the "technical level" I noted that:

- his sound seemed a bit coarser than usual (maybe getting used to the new SELMER, which, with its new acoustical redesign, is VERY powerful/loud, especially with a very open facing mouthpiece like Steve's)
- he used harmonics quite extensively, which was not new of course, but I noticed that he would almost systematically play the first two octaves of the register (up to the high Bb) without ever depressing the octave key. Now for those of you somewhat familiar with the special tonal spectrum/tricks of the soprano, you can imagine the timbral results/richness of the sound!

Throughout, the music was so very special, of course, always full of surprises and unexpected turns, yet fully logical. I was sorry to see the end of the set, as the question in my mind - and everyone's? - must have been: when will Steve's next NY appearance be? (it turned out to be in early June 1995 at the Village Vanguard with Mal Waldron! which was not such a long purgatory after all! more on that appearance, maybe, in another writing).

But that petty / selfish concem totally vanished barely a few minutes later, backstage, where "we", some of the "regulars":
- John and Alice Pucknat, close friends of Steve since the mid-50s
- Bob Jacobson, another Lacy freak (like me) who gets so aggravated and can't find peace until he gets his hands on Steve's latest release(s)
- Peter Bull, the producer of the video "Lift the Bandstand", and myself were privileged to share a few intimate moments with Steve and Irene, discussing their USA tour, their decision to move from Paris to Berlin, and the (then) newly released book/CDs "Findings".

Now to top this all, like icing on the cake, this ephemeral moment was blessed and rendered all the more "magic" and precious in our memory by the surprise visit backstage of no other than... CECIL TAYLOR!, another true old friend. After some more chit-chat with the two of them, in particular recalling some common friends of the mid-50s jazz scene, "we" politely left them alone to enjoy their own private moment.

Quite a memorable evening for a few fortunates!!!! Too bad it does not happen more often!!!

Gilles P. Laheurte - NY/20 novembre 1996