Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Steve Lacy: The Beat Suite

The Beat Suite is a very good record-a group of 10 compositions built around the work of Beat generation poets William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg and others. Steve Lacy’s done this sort of thing before, but here he’s taken it to a new level. Or should I say, his band’s taken it to a new level, since the music made by Lacy and his longtime collaborators-Irene Aebi, vocals; Jean-Jacques Avenel, bass; John Betsch, drums; and guest George Lewis, trombone-has always been more than the sum of its parts.

Bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel superglues together the collective improvisations, his solos are excellent, and his grooves with drummer Betsch are elastic and solid in good measure. Betsch is a loose, hard-swinging drummer, capable of augmenting and accenting the theme statements like a member of the horn section. Aebi’s unison melody statements with Lacy’s soprano are a signature of his vocal settings. While it’s hard to imagine her singing “How High the Moon” with Jazz at Lincoln Center, her voice is ideal for Lacy’s classically tinged art songs. It’s great to hear the hypercreative Lewis improvise at length on trombone, something we don’t get enough of.

Lacy’s solo voice gets leaner and more straightforward with each passing year. His playing is reduced to its essential state, a quality made evident as he solos over bass and drums on tunes like the midtempo swinger “A Ring of Bone” or the salsalike “Agenda.” Lacy’s compositional style is uniquely wedded to the poetry. His floating, nonrepetitive, tonally ambiguous melodies are the musical equivalent of free verse. They adopt the rhythms of the poetry while simultaneously imposing the composer’s own quirky will. The wedding of the word and music, composition and improvisation, are brilliantly realized.

Originally Published