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Album Review

Cuneiform's issue of a double-disc of completely unheard recordings by Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd is certainly a welcome addition to the catalog. Lacy and Rudd played together in one the pair's earliest Dixieland outings in the '50s and eventually formed the great free bop quartet and issued the brilliant School Days album in 1963 that was re-released by Hat. This double-disc presents nine tunes by the pair recorded between 1999 and 2002, and four demo cuts for the School Days band with drummer Denis Charles and bassist Bob Cunningham. The rest feature John Betsch on drums and Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass. The sound on these recordings is very good to excellent, while the vast majority were recorded in festival situations. While the music ranges from swinging out jazz to more free but not obnoxious offerings, the particular interest is in the demo sides cut for School Days in the studio. The interplay between the frontline players is completely symbiotic and swinging, and features two takes of Thelonious Monk's "Eronel" — both of which take different approaches — Monk's "Think of One," and "Tune 2" by Cecil Taylor. The small and deliberate chances taken with forms and cadences here is revelatory in how Lacy developed his approach to playing the music of Monk in an ensemble setting that fit him far more closely. What's remarkable, though, is the Taylor track, which moves along a traditional headline as tempo and cadences change. "Tune 2," written along a blues line, moves in three directions at once: rhythmically harmonically and improvisationally. Lacy's soloing here is interesting, even compelling on the Taylor tune, but Rudd's is out of this world. He takes a real authority with the material in the front seat. It's almost worth the price of the double-disc for these demos alone, which total about 24 minutes. This is not to deny the wealth and even the grandeur of the rest of what's here. These are festival performances and as such, the quartet's collective spirit is buoyed by appreciative audiences.

On the first disc, all compositions but one, "Light Blue" by Monk, are by Lacy and are recognizable to fans: "The Rent," "The Bath," "The Hoot," and the brief but wonderful "Bookioni." Disc two contains Rudd's signature "Bamako" that opens with a stunningly melodic bass solo by Avenel. Then it's into Herbie Nichols' "Twelve Bars" for 11 Minutes, then back to Lacy's "Bone" and into the 1962 material. Of course most of the pieces are long and feature long engagements between all four members of the band. The intuition between Lacy and Rudd, however, is something special. On "Bamako," the way Lacy plays a counterpoint harmony lead to Rudd's melody adds so much color, and Rudd's soloing is fine and adventurous. Lacy's playing at this time in his life was full of winding labyrinths of sound, trying to keep the swing, but moving it further along to contain as much of his soundworld as possible. There isn't a dull moment on either of these two discs, and to think these two men who played together rather infrequently over forty years could communicate this well and propel a rhythm section to such heights along with them is remarkable. This is one for the collectors because it offers so much unreleased material that should have been on the shelves all along. But more than that, it's a genuine surprise that something like this exits at all. Jason Weiss, who coordinated this, and Michael King, who did the remastering, have done a wonderful thing. This is the sound of music on a frontier that doesn't lose its heart or its lineage in the process. Wynton Marsalis for all his loose-mouthed blabbering about the avant-garde and how it strays from the tradition and doesn't swing should listen to this in light of his own work with dissonance (From the Plantation to the Penitentiary) and let his ears be opened to the creative and authentic musical majesty of postmodern, creative jazz at its best. Indeed, Early and Late is proof that there's plenty left to do in jazz, and that jazz may be the people's music and may have come from humble origins, but that doesn't make it any less an art form, but one that almost anyone can enjoy.

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Early and Late, Steve Lacy - Roswell Rudd Quartet
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