Steve Lacy has always been one of my favorite horn players since I first hear him in the mid 70’s. He delivers a liquid, speech-like sound with his soprano saxophone which he plays exclusively. Influenced by trad jazz players, Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk and Gil Evans, Mr. Lacy composes and improvises with a quirky sense of melody unlike any other player around at the time or since, and his compositions reveal his very personal way of telling his stories. His staccato yet fluid attack, and almost vibrato-less legato stands out within the history of his axe. He has made many, many records (hundreds) and almost each one has its own individual sound and ultimate expression. Straight up swing to musique concrete to free improvisation are where Steve could be found at any moment, often simultaneously. His accompanists range from sitar duos to big band improv to sax/synthesizer/ drum outings, exploring all avenues of audible art. He also made many solo concerts, with just his soprano sax perhaps speaking the musical dialog about what was shaking at the moment. These concerts and recordings are a wonderful document of this artist’s creative depth.
I am fortunate to have met Steve when I had an in-store appearance with him while I was managing Rasputin’s Jazz and Soul record store in Berkeley, California in 1981. Steve is second from left, just to my right in this photo of that day (Rick Gillman far left, Lacy, Frystak, Michael Finney far right).
A kind and soft spoken personality belied his passionate, forward surging playing style. His many bay-area fans that day were in heaven to be near this musical icon, myself included. He played later in the evening at U.C.Berkeley to a packed house. Steve passed in 2004 at age 69 years young, and I was fortunate to see him play multiple times, always searching and swinging in whatever context he found himself in.
Amoeba is fortunate to have acquired a copy of a rare, privately pressed recording of a 1974 FMP-produced workshop in Berlin with Steve, synthesist Richard Teitlebaum, electronic wizard and inventor Michel Waisvisz, drummer Han Bennink and Steve’s wife Irene Aebi on some wonderfully melodic and enchanting vocals. The record is called “Sideways”, on the Roaratorio label, and features a hand-painted cover by artist Judith Lindbloom, each cover being a unique art piece unto itself. The disc represents a wide reaching effort by all, and borders on 20th century classical music in its treatment of the possible sounds and expression. Lots of great playing by all involved, and a decent, nicely balanced live recording for the era. This LP is a rare one, and fine example of the way Steve looked at life and his art, and points to the influence he had on creative musicians then and to come. I miss Steve, and treasure my collection of his work.
Here’s a chance to pick up one of Steve’s rarer pieces, Judith’s too! Buy it now at Amoeba.com. Click the photo to see Amoeba's "Sideways" web page.