Steve Lacy, the Paris-based soprano sax legend has criss-crossed the States for three years, leading his trio with bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch. With his Stateside itineraries now surpassing a month of constant gigging, US audiences have become familiar with this seasoned unit's book, a thick slice of which is included in the 2-disc set, The Rent, recorded at a late '97 Portland, Oregon concert.
Those who think Lacy needs to leap tall buildings in a single bound will decry the predictability of a set list that opens languidly with Monk's "Shuffle Boil" (the only tune not penned by Lacy) and "The Bath," hits an apex mid-way with a sprinting take on "Blinks," and closes with a full head of steam with "Bone" and, as an encore, "Bookioni." True, the trio has played the majority of these tunes time and again over the past few years, though Lacy usually digs deep for a seldom-heard piece or two, as he does here with the sinewy, Balinese-inspired "Retreat."
However, the refinements several of these pieces have undergone recently argue that Lacy's trio isn't flying on auto pilot. Whether it is the subtle shifts in the groove of "Gospel" or the title piece, or the phrasing of "The Bath" or "Bone," there are tune-by-tune indications that active research is occurring on the bandstand. While The Rent breaks no startlingly new conceptual ground, it is nevertheless a definitive statement from a real working band.