Intakt CD 171
The people who heard Steve Lacy’s final solo performance in 2003 at the “Unerhört” Festival in Zurich will not have forgotten the experience. This rollercoaster of emotions. It didn’t just go under the skin; it went straight to the heart. It was so moving to see and hear the love, serenity, trust and sense of adventure that the totally weak Lacy displayed for his music. This is what was so wonderful and magic about that grey, cold November afternoon: we all witnessed what it is like when a master of improvisation gets carried away by the power of music. He became one with the music, drawn to it like a magnet. How beautiful: sadness found joy. Coldness found warmth.
Tension found peace and serenity. And the big spotlights warmed the cold afternoon as if they were the sun.
Sometimes it is impossible to talk about a CD without delving in to the back-story. This live recording from a November 2003 performance at the Unerhört! Festival in Switzerland captures the last solo performance by Steve Lacy, just three months after he learned that he had cancer and six months before his death. He would go on to perform a handful of times afterwards (including a killer two-night run in Boston performing The Beat Suite which I was fortunate enough to attend), but the solo performances always feel especially close to the heart of Lacy's music, so this concert takes on particular significance.
As always, he assembled the program with care, and it's shadowed by a sense of his own mortality. "Blues for Aida" was written for the young Japanese producer who died shortly after bringing Lacy to Japan in the 70s; "The Rent" is dedicated to Laurent Goddet, a friend from Lacy's early days in Paris who committed suicide; and "Tina's Tune" was written for a friend who died of cancer, based on a haiku by novelist Ozaki Koyo written shortly before his own death. Hearing Lacy chant the poem ("If I must die / Let it be autumn / Ere / The dew is dry") has a chilling poignancy. There's also a cross-section of pieces from Lacy's career, from "The Crust" which he wrote in the early 70s to "The Door" from the late 80s, and as an encore he plays Monk's "Reflections", a piece he first recorded in the late 50s and which encapsulates the reflective mood of the entire session. While the effects of illness are apparent – at times shading Lacy's tone, and also evident when he catches his breath between pieces – this is still very much the work of a master, a final, deeply moving example of his characteristic blend of distilled emotion and cutting directness.
Michael Rosenstein, Paristransatlantic, Summer 2010