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

Steve Lacy +6: The Cry

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

This “jam opera”, to use Lacy’s term, is one of the most demanding undertakings of a risk-strewn career. It is based on the haunting, harrowing poetry of exiled Bangladesh poet, Taslima Nasrin, who, like Salman Rushdie, lives under threats of death issued by Moslem fundamentalists offended by her “blasphemous” writings. Lacy and Nasrin were both artists in residence for a year in Berlin at the behest of the German government, whose elaborate (and very necessary) security measures made Nasrin a virtual house prisoner. Lacy was moved to formulate a piece involving Nasrin’s texts, Irene Aebi’s vocals, and music by a unique sextet featuring Tina Wrase, soprano, sopranino, and bass clarinet, Petia Kaufman, harpsichord, Cathrin Pfeifer, accordion, Jean-Jacques Avenael, bass, and Daniel Gioia, percussion. The initial performance also featured Nasrin’s recitals of her poems in the original Bengali, her presence necessitating bulletproof glass shields and other logistical problems, but we are told she suffered stagefright (who wouldn’t). If Nasrin isn’t present for the CD version, her uncompromising feminist vision is.

Musically, The Cry evokes the Brecht-Weill of The Three Penny Opera in various ways. The political nature of the texts is comparable, though it should be noted that Nasrin’s poems have to do with male/female oppression on a direct personal level that isn’t concerned with the politics of economics. Aebi’s vocals are dramatic and declamatory, much like the “Three Penny” singers, and the music often has a similar feeling of wounded folksong. It takes several tracks to move far from the basic motif, and in this and other ways Lacy creates a constricted feeling in keeping with the themes of the texts. But within narrowly defined parameters, the group achieves a great deal; the ensemble sound is brilliant and kaleidoscopic, and every track leaves room for instrumental exposition that gives everyone a chance to shine, and it need hardly be said that these are all excellent players.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.