Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy is my most recent musical enthusiasm. I've 'appreciated' him for a long time but only now got really enthused. It was the first two tracks of a solo CD called Clinkers that really got me. The first track is a beautiful abstract harmonic line, full of suprises, taken at a measured pace. Then the next track starts with an amazing set of timbral variations on a single pitch. His technique for what he wants to do is absolutely immaculate, and yet he still pushes at the boundaries of his instrument. He seems to me to be the model of a real jazz musician - familiar with all aspects of the music and not dismissive of any, but without any trace of shallow eclecticism. After all, this is a man who worked extensively with Pops Foster, Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, Musica Elettronica Viva and Derek Bailey, and yet maintained a stable group (with a couple of shifts of personnel) for well over thirty years, up to the end of his life.
It is of course a great sadness that I never heard him live. And also ironic that on Friday I played a run of the mill funk gig in Freuds, a bar in Oxford that was once a church called St Paul's, where Lacy played solo. (And also, come to think of it, Evan Parker's solo record The Snake Decides was recorded, twenty years ago last January.)
My dear friend Bruno Guastalla recently found a Lacy/Derek Bailey duo CD that I lent him about 18 months ago and am very much looking forward to hearing again! He also very generously gave me a ticket to a concert in the Oxford Chamber Music Festival last Saturday lunchtime. Sadly the advertised Thomas Larcher solo cello piece had to be cancelled, so we had a clarinet improvisation on a theme by Stravinsky instead which was beautifully played but not very improvised. The finale was Mozart's late string quartet, K. 593 in D major. I'm clearly a Philistine but this just reinforced my sense that Mozart and myself don't get on. Bruno remarked that rhythmically his music is very related to the breath, which I think puts its finger on the problem I have - I don't find the kind of rhythmic tension which I relish either in music based on a more steady beat (Max Roach, George Clinton, Steve Reich) or on the subversion of any regularity per se (Derek Bailey, Cecil Taylor, Morton Feldman). But opening the concert was a fascinating piece by Schumann: Andante and Variations in B flat major, for two pianos, two cellos and horn, Op. 46. It is a quite bizarre ensemble, but beautifully effective. The organic but unpredictable way the variations follow one another was one highlight, but what I really responded to was the way the horn was used in the earlier part of the piece. Hardly audible, it contributed just enough tone colour to subtly but totally change the familiar string/piano texture. It its way the effect was not unlike the 'acoustic tone synthesis' I heard violinist Angharad Davies, flautist Samantha Rebello and clarinetist Tara Stuckey engage in during a recent improvised performance in London. Part of music's excitement value is surely the discovery of new sounds, and it seems that they can be obtained by combining older sounds just as well as by any other method (much like colour in painting perhaps, but with the added dimension that on acoustic instruments multiple players are needed, which automatically introduces an appealling social element).