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Weekly Alibi Blue Note

By Michael Henningsen

APRIL 5, 1999:  Sometimes, the people we cross paths with only briefly help set the tone for the entire rest of our lives. For Steve Lacy, that person was Thelonious Monk, with whom he sidelined for about 120 days in 1960, but the legendary pianist's music was to stick with him for the rest of his life.

Shortly after his stint with Monk, Lacy formed a quartet with trombonist Roswell Rudd that played Monk compositions exclusively. As interesting as the group was, they yielded but a single recording, a live set entitled School Days (Emanem) in 1963, but virtually no mainstream label interest, which led to the group's demise in 1964.

In 1965, Lacy, who was beginning to emerge as the solitary master of the soprano saxophone--a horn almost completely neglected during the bop era--turned toward avant-garde jazz. He had a quartet with trumpeter/flugelhornist Enrico Rava in South America before permanently relocating to Europe, where he spent three years in Italy and then Paris.

In 1977, Lacy formed the group that would live on into the mid-'90s and spawned 20-plus albums. Part of that group remains intact today, with wife Irene Aebi on vocals, and bassist Jean-Jaques Avenel (who replaced Kent Carter) on bass. On their latest recording, Bye-Ya (Free Lance), the current Lacy Trio--consisting of Lacy himself on soprano sax, Avenel on bass and John Betsch on drums--are joined by Aebi on vocals on two tracks. The record includes two Monk compositions, the album's title track and "Trinkle Tinkle," along with seven original works and one provided by Avenel. It's a heart-stopping nod to Lacy's soprano genius.

This pair of Albuquerque shows will showcase Lacy reunited with Roswell Rudd, which hints at a program focused on the music of Thelonious Monk. History in the making, one might say. Don't miss it.

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