Discussion: Missing star

Excerpt from Ed Enright's review of Monk's Dream in Downbeat magazine (July 2000 issue):

"One major distraction is the presence of Irene Aebi's big-vibrato, operatic vocals on a pair of pieces with lyrics written by another "monk", the Zen poet Ryokan (A Bright Pearl, Traces). The words themselves are inspired, but perhaps they would have come across better if they were spoken instead by Rudd, whose spontaneous vocalizations added an extra element of surprise and delight during one of the quartet's recent live gigs."

Excerpt from the open letter of Steve Lacy to Mr Enright (23/06/2000):

"Your review of my CD, Monk's Dream, was a terrible let-down for me, and an insult to my wife Irene Aebi, who has been collaborating with me for more than 30 years, singing and playing hundreds of my compositions, written for her, and recording more than 50 albums in that time, also performing thousands of time."

Steve Lacy and Irene Aebi "made in France"

August 1st, 2005

I came to know of Steve Lacy through my father who was a great jazz "head". Mind you, he only had Steves' work with Gil and previous. I came to read William Burroughs on my own, which led to Brion Gysin. Lo and behold Steve and Irene not only knew Brion, but they made an album together!

I fell in love with Irene Aebi at this moment (Somebody Special), and it only grew with each recording I heard. Her sensibilities are exquisite, her "work", or execution, glorious. Her choice in poems!... It is all there and quite unfettered.

I befriended Steve and Irene during their duo tour circa 1994?, in Oakland. I joked Steve that I only got to know him so's to get to Irene! Irene, however, seems quite private and/or quiet. She's a quiet storm, that one. Please let these critics, these wanna be sidemen, sidle off and give room to the airs that still circulate through and from Irene Aebi. And let the wind bring her back to the west coast of the US soon.

Matthew (Masa) Vestuto

August 27, 2000

Dear Vincent,

As you are aware, I discussed this disturbing DB review personally with both Steve and Mal Waldron in late June, during their gig at Iridium.

When I read the DB review, I was first puzzled to see "only" a four stars rating. As I started reading, I became all the more puzzled, as the review was -- rightfully so -- praising the musicians for the beautiful homage it is to Monk's music and spirit, even though most of the tunes are not Monk's compositions. And then suddenly, as the "attack" on Irene's voice became obvious, it was as if I had walked on a banana peel.

I felt profoundly disturbed. Infuriated. Profoundly sad.
I wondered how a magazine such as DB could accept/allow to publish a reviewer's absurd suggestion on the artistry of a musician/ composer/ performer recognized as a "genius", whose artistry the reviewer obviously is at a total loss to properly understand…

Anyone can dislike a piece of art (= a painting, a sculpture, a poem, a building, a piece of music, etc), since this is a question of taste / personal preference. Some people like the artistry of Klee or Kandinsky, others don't. Some people, today still, do not care much for the music of Stravinsky, while others rave about his amazing genius. The expression of such likes or dislikes is something perfectly acceptable.

But how can anyone -- who for sure would never be able to SING these very moving poems, which are so difficult to sing (it's not so difficult to read poetry, but it's another matter to sing poetry or literature put to music!) -- even dare suggest a change to an artist's vision and expression of his own art / research ? On a painting, would anyone in his right mind dare suggest that another media -- say not oil, but watercolor or gouache -- should have been used instead of the one used, with the ludicrous suggestion that it would have been "better"... ??? NO ONE, but the artists themselves, has the right to change the media that the artists have chosen to use.

Irene's voice is like that special media, which gives the final product its specific unique touch, trademark and color. Some may not like her voice, just like some may not like the voice of a popular or opera singer. But Irene Aebi's voice fits the emotional quality of the poems. At this time, NO other voice could sing these songs.

So the DB review demonstrates once again the magazine's commercial and unethical attitude in its decision to publish a reviewer's out of place comments. We all know this isn't anything new with DB. Let's remember the original DB reviews of some John Coltrane's and Ornette Coleman's records of the early 1960s, true masterpieces awarded a one star rating only.... Some so called "critics" simply cannot understand properly the artistry they are requested to review. A most unfortunate situation.

In the history of music, everyone will remember Steve Lacy, his role in the revival of the soprano saxophone, and his remarkably witty, intelligent and unusual music. But who will remember a certain Mr. Enright ???

Gilles Laheurte

July 17, 2000

Steve, Irene, all,

The recent thread regarding Irene Aebi compels me to comment. I recall over the years various artists being damned via the faint praise of their artistry situated thusly: 'acquired taste'. Certainly this has been levelled toward Ms. Aebi's artistry.

One can't help but feel, then, that this has to do with the acquisition of taste much more than the fact of the artistry so questioned. It is a problematic on display in much criticism, and this goes for critical commentaries in every artistic field.

There is a certain regimen of, dare I say, education and daring, which informs the most valuable criticism and does so even when the criticism is off target. Lacking this background, a lot of criticism isn't only not back-grounded by 'well roundedness', but comes off as square. At it's worst, such criticism reminds the reader of the defects of the reviewer. None is more glaring than when most of the sweep of the 20th century's contribution to the evolution of ideas, imagination and creativity doesn't make it onto the radar screen of the critic.

This causes the 'problem of acquisition of taste'. Alas, critical meaning schemes get etched severely, set in stasis, and, it would appear, the point of great artistry is made pointless. The human intention behind artistic expression is made unremarkable.

No wonder so much criticism is parochial, and burdened with agendas funded by static perspectives.


Not so for the simple listener in the best case

Irene Aebi's art is great precisely because it's deep roots, unmistakable soul, and serious intention may change the world of the listener. It shakes the 'meaning schemes' and opens up the vista of the listener. (...my experience and opinion.)

Obviously to be immune to this potential to to miss -entirely- the point of artistry and even the pointedness of art.

It remains for me amazing how many critics can no longer taste and seem so identified with the acquisition of immunity! "How insensitive..."

thanks for all the shattering music,
in music,

Stephen Calhoun

Abdullah Ibrahim _ Mantra Modes

The music that reaches no further than the surface of
one's being remains only on the surface. It is the
music that reaches to the depths of one's being that
touches the soul. The deeper the music reaches, the
more contented is the soul." -H.I.Khan

July 12, 2000

Dear Steve and Irene:

High levels of artistry such as yours are frequently lost on critics. Blind to the realities of performance, they fail to acknowledge those who have in fact cultivated a new means of expression over many years. Irene's work has an integrity and emotional range which us unparalleled. We should be thankful for her continued exploration and mastery of challenging material
in the midst of enormous conformist pressure.

Your performance at the now-defunct Koncepts Cultural Gallery in Oakland, California ten years ago was a milestone in Bay Area Jazz history. The University of California, Berkeley should create a residency for your group, which is among the most advanced in contemporary music.

With best wishes,

James D. Armstrong, Jr., B.A. Milpitas, CA

Pianist; Contributing Writer, Jazz Now Magazine

July 10, 2000

Hear, hear, Mr. Lacy!

I distinctly remember my own comment upon hearing Irene Aebi sing for the first time (I believe it was on either The Gap or Scraps album.) When asked by a friend what I thought of her voice, I remarked that "she has an unusual approach, but it's easy to love."
I can understand that some people may have an aversion to Irene's singing, and I have heard plenty of people voice their opinions (both Lacy fans and otherwise), but there is one undeniable point that I hope anyone would agree with. Irene Aebi truly has a voice of her own, instantly recognizable and inimitable, a feat which few artists of any genre can boast.

David Champion
Philadelphia , PA

P.S. - I'm attaching another review of Monk's Dream by Karl Stark in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. It really infuriated me with idiotic backhanded compliments (The instruments and players somehow suit the madcap music…; before the composer's off-kilter jazz became the fashion it is now… etc.). It's too bad that Lacy, Rudd and Aebi's music needs to be subjected to such uneducated and opinionated press (an uptight singer, Irene Aebi, on two tracks), but then, there was a time when Steve's music would never have been mentioned in a mainstream American newspaper. I guess progress is slow in coming.

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