Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet: Early and Late

Any and all documentation of the Lacy/Rudd partnership is valuable, but listening to this two-CD set is a particularly moving experience, since it captures the two men near the beginning and the end of their time making music together. The album includes four tracks from a studio-recorded demo from 1962, on which Lacy and Rudd were joined by bassist Bob Cunningham and drummer Dennis Charles. The rest of the music is culled from concerts in 1999 and 2002, with the rhythm section Lacy used in the last years of his life, bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch. While there’s an undeniable refinement to Lacy’s later playing (his command is surer, his tone a bit warmer, his lines a trifle leaner and more direct), what’s most striking in comparing the two sets of recordings is how little his approach changed-or, perhaps more pertinent, how it came full circle.

Even at such an early stage, his approach is characterized by spontaneous deliberation, a manner of playing in which he determinedly avoids cliché and embraces freedom of line without sacrificing cogency. Rudd, on the other hand, is much more rambunctious on the later sides, more inclined to obliterate bar lines, mimic flatulence, use off-the-wall quotes, and generally ignore anything that faintly suggests respectability. Despite Rudd’s wackiness, the later sides have a nearly elegiac air. The record seems to implicitly acknowledge the end of a certain way of playing jazz: a jazz built on a platform of faintly defined tonality and explicitly defined swing, played by musicians who invented their musical personalities out of whole cloth. That ending, combined with the knowledge that there won’t be any more Lacy/Rudd collaborations, gives the listener something to be sad about when hearing this beautiful music.