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The Holy La

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Album Review

The holy "la" of Steve Lacy's title for The Holy la refers to A, the note most musicians tune to. This 1998 trio date — with two guest vocals by Lacy's wife and musical collaborator, Irene Aebi — is a kind of summation and statement of progress on the journey of compositional and improvisational progress; it is an entry in the diary of this particular trio. Lacy has worked with drummer John Betsch and bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel in one form or another for 30 years. The manner in which they play these old nuggets in their book is no less exciting or vital than when these pieces were first unveiled. Some of them, such as "The Wane," go back to the Vietnam War era. And "Flakes," from 1971, is one of the first pieces the trio learned to play together. Most importantly, these works, whether they are the title track, Monk's "Shuffle Boil," or "Inside My Head," with lyrics by Robert Creeley, are difficult, knotty pieces with many changes in pitch and rhythm, yet instead of worrying about the "perfect" execution of a composition, this band moves all through and around Lacy's work. People and places are visited in the hearts of these compositions, whether it is the late painter Thomas Gainsbourg in "Retreat," which is graced by his words, or the deceased bassist Jean-François Jenny-Clark, who was Lacy's first friend in the City of Lights three decades ago. Other works, such as "The Door," are well-documented as a series of Haydn's themes turned inside out to fit Lacy's particularly soulful jazz idiom. Most notable is the instrumental version of "Clichés" that gives Avenel an even greater opportunity to display his considerable skills on the kalimba. This is one of Lacy's most intimate and lighthearted dates in years. There is much joy in the playing and plenty of improvisational firepower in these poetic and very liberal readings of his songbook.


Born: 23 July 1934 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

One of the great soprano saxophonists of all time (ranking up there with Sidney Bechet and John Coltrane), Steve Lacy's career was fascinating to watch develop. He originally doubled on clarinet and soprano (dropping the former by the mid-'50s), inspired by Bechet, and played Dixieland in New York with Rex Stewart, Cecil Scott, Red Allen, and other older musicians during 1952-1955. He debuted on record in a modernized Dixieland format with Dick Sutton in 1954. However, Lacy soon jumped over several...
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