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Monks Dream by Steve Lacy / Roswell Rudd

For followers of Lacy's career, this Verve release with sometime collaborator Roswell Rudd has got to bring a smile to your face. Rudd's elastic - occasionally spastic - but always muscularly brilliant trombone playing is filled with a humor that brings out the playfulness in Lacy's sometimes cerebral offerings. Rudd plays the musical Laurel to Lacy's Hardy - a yin and yang that works to bring out the best in both men and their mutual affinities.

Those affinities are well-known by now. When they met in the late fifties, the two were instantly joined at the hip because of their mutual passion for the music of Thelonious Monk and they formed a "jazz repertory group" (Lacy's words) dedicated to their mentor's music. That partnership has been too infrequently rekindled but when it has - most notably in '83 with Black Saint's "Regeneration" set - it's been with great wit and depth.

Monk's Dream is not an all Monk affair as the title might suggest. Instead, it's an overview of Lacy's adventurous path over the past 40 years. Through two Monk tunes, one Ellington and six of his own varied compositions, Lacy leads Rudd and longtime partners Avenel and Betsch through the labyrinthine world of Lacy. It's a path that covers a lot of ground.

"Monk's Dream" and "Pannonica" alone are worth the effort. Monk has no better interpreters than Lacy and Rudd and the two's music grows exponentially when they collaborate. The playful sparring on "Monk's Dream" reveals the telepathy the two hold, with Rudd underscoring Lacy's phrases like the underline key on my keyboard. "Pannonica" is taken as a slightly bouncing ballad and provides Rudd with some bittersweet soloing that beautifully segues into Lacy's plaintive horn. Lacy is a fine ballad player, able to remove the high pitched brittleness from his horn and emphasize a soulfulness that few can match. "KoKo" comes complete with the two growling the jungle opening in homage to Ellington's 100th year.

Lacy brings the best of his book to the session as well. "The Bath", "The Rent" and "The Door" he's recorded often, but I'm sure the opportunity to play them with Rudd was too tempting to resist. "The Rent", his humorous cha-cha homage to friend and jazz critic Laurent Goddet, is especially alive with Rudd's raspberried attack the perfect foil for Lacy's best Dixieland phrasing.

But the new pieces are perhaps the most interesting. "Grey Blue" a new blues must have been written with Rudd in mind. The spacious setting fits Rudd's brash trombone like an old recliner. He mutes his bell for its softest tones and with Lacy in tow brings out the joy in the blues. "A Bright Pearl" and "Traces" with Lacy's partner Irene Aebi on vocals are the first two parts of a projected ten-part suite setting the poetry of Zen Buddhist Monk Ryokan to music. It's a mix of jazz and art song which I'll qualify by saying is not for everyone. But Aebi's voice, with its Schoenbergian color, and Lacy's escalator phrasing make a challenging duo that rewards repeated listening. Lacy's theme for "Traces" sounds like cascading leaves in an autumn wind, each phrase sliding into the next. The solo passages are loose and limber.

The lyrics for the latter are: "We meet only to part / Coming and going like white clouds. / Leaving traces so faint / Hardly a soul notices." The traces of these two musical masters one can't help but notice. This is a disc to ensure that.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Steve Lacy / Roswell Rudd
  • CD Title: Monks Dream
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2000
  • Record Label: Verve
  • Musicians: Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone), Roswell Rudd (trombone), Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass), John Betsch (drums), Irene Aebi (vocals on "A Bright Pearl" and "Traces")
  • Rating: Five Stars
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