When saxophonist Steve Lacy died in June 2004, he had amassed well over 300 personal cassette recordings of his concerts, spanning from the ’70s until his death and encompassing everything from dates with his standard quintet to experimental one-offs with musicians from all over the Euro free-music scene. The best of these recordings are currently being unearthed through the new series The Leap: Steve Lacy Cassette Archives, and the inaugural release, Esteem, kicks it off with a resounding bang. Recorded at La Cour des Miracles in Paris on Feb. 26, 1975, it reveals Lacy’s longtime quintet (Steve Potts on alto and soprano saxophones, Lacy’s wife Irene Aebi on cello and violin, Kent Carter on bass and little-known drummer Kenneth Tyler) in peak form, interpreting six of his songs in fiery fashion.
Because spontaneity plays such a commanding role in these pieces, they occasionally sound completely improvised; Lacy actually intended for his compositions to possess the open-endedness necessary for the musicians to explore new ground with each variation. Potts—Lacy’s most reliable foil throughout the ’70s—channels some turbulent forces here, and with Lacy playing soprano exclusively, the pair generally inhabit the upper register, resulting in a mostly unsettling, jarring ambience. Aebi, much derided for her idiosyncratic vocal forays, remains mute and embellishes the performances with melodic violin figures and textural, droning cello. Carter displays a formidable assertiveness on each track, plucking with power and purpose, while Tyler—who briefly played with Cecil Taylor in 1978—darts and dances around the drums in the freer passages and lays down a thick groove on the Hendrix tribute “The Uh Uh Uh.” If this release is any indication, we have dozens of hours of prime Lacy material to look forward to.