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Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd: Monk’s Dream

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The best concert that I had the pleasure of attending last year, in fact, the best in many years, was by the Steve Lacy Trio with Roswell Rudd. Lacy’s long-standing trio with bassist Jean-Jacque Avenel and drummer John Betsch is one of the most closely-knit groups in the business. That Roswell is able to fit right in with the group chemistry is hardly surprising, given the long history shared with Lacy. When they met in the ’50s, both had served long apprenticeships in Dixieland aggregations and both were embarking on periods of intensive study of great modern masters: Monk, in Lacy’s case, and Herbie Nichols in Rudd’s. They formed a quartet in the early ’60s dedicated to Monk’s music that is legendary now but couldn’t survive at the time, and they’ve collaborated occasionally in the years since. The new group does more than pick up where these two brothers in sound left off-it takes the sound even further.

Rudd seems to be on fire these days, as if he’s determined to make every note and nuance count, and Lacy sounds delighted to have such an inspired front-line partner. The masterful solos are full of surprise, humor, whimsy and courageous vulnerability, and the two-horn interplay could only be achieved by players with roots that go deep into the trad tradition. Avenel and Betsch are individually and collectively superlative. The bassist’s concept is unique, and Betsch is one of those drummers who can make everything he touches sound new. The program includes Monk tunes, Ellington’s “Koko” and a couple of Lacy’s fascinating songs, rendered by Irene Aebi in her inimitable, highly dramatic style. The instrumental writing here is denser and more complex and these challenging songs round out the program perfectly.

I expected a lot after hearing this group live, and my expectations were exceeded.