FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


H. Lukas Lindenmaier


In July '85 four concert evenings entitled "The Different Steve Lacy" were advertised as taking place in Berlin's "Haus am Waldsee". The soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy playing in a duo, each time with a new partner. With the Japanese dancer Shiro Daimon, the European pianists Ulrich Gumpert and Urs Voerkel and the English saxophonist Evan Parker. If we consider the different backgrounds described below (Hg)1 Lacy and Parker's encounter seems musically to be the most exciting and creative.

Hg 01. Without wanting to cite lexical biographies it can be said that Steve Lacy, who was born in 1934 in New York, is the most important living soprano saxophonist as well as being one of the most distinguished soloists, composers and integrators of Free- and New-Jazz. Since 1955 he has been playing the soprano saxophone to the exclusion of all other instuments2.

Hg 02. Evan Parker, ten years younger than Lacy, was born in Bristol (England). He is said to be one of the most important personalities in the British New-Music-Scene, a skilful soloist who has own special instrumental techniques. He plays soprano and tenor saxophone but has, typically enough, until now only used the soprano instrument in his solo productions3.

Hg 03. Saxophone I. A wind instrument named after its inventor Adolphe Sax. The conical brass pipe with finger-holes closed by keys is played through a beak-like single-reed mouthpiece. Six main types have established themselves, ranging from sopranino to bass. The soprano sax is regarded as the most demanding of its kind. Although difficult to play it allows for extraordinary variation in sound quality.

Hg 04. Saxophone II. Originally a mere ensemble-instrument, saxophone soloists emerged from the Afro-American Jazz and European dance music of the 20th century. The story of Afro-American jazz music is also the story of great saxophone soloists, only three of whom are important soprano players - Sidney Bechet, early Jazz and Steve Lacy and John Coltrane, modern Jazz.

Hg 05. Whilst duo, trio and above all quartet line-ups can often be found in saxophone music, you will seldom find these ensemble constellations - apart from the saxophone formations in Big Bands4 - in Jazz, and then, only in newly developed styles. The combination of like saxophones, mainly in the tenor position, can occasionally be found in combos5.

Hg 06. The first important saxophone ensemble in the New Jazz/improvised music style was directed by Steve Lacy in London in 19746. Alongside Steve Lacy and Evan Parker the saxophonists Steve Potts, and Trevor Watts, the guitarist Derek Bailey and the electronic-synthesizer player Michel Waisvisz took part. This first (official) encounter between Lacy and Parker was also the birth of the soprano saxophone quartet "Sops" 7

Hg 07. In 1978 another concert entitled "Saxophone Special" - the 104th concert in the series "Jazz in der Kammer" - took place in Berlin. Willem Breuker, Peter Brötzmann and John Tchicai performed alongside Steve Lacy and Evan Parker in an improvised soprano saxophone ensemble. The double-bass player Klaus Koch and the percussionist Günter Sommer also took part.

Hg 08. Apart form the saxophone constellations mentioned above (Hg 06/07) Lacy and Parker joined forces in various other projects, some of which are among the most important in the history of European Free and New Jazz music. First and foremost "the Globe Unity Orchestra (Special)" should be mentioned with its record releases8 and tours in 1975, '76, '79 and '80. Both saxophonists featured in the "Company"-sessions initiated by Derek Bailey- 1977and '79 in London and 1978 in Berlin9. In 1977 and '78 they took part in the Italian "Laboratorio Internazionale de Musica Creativa E Improvisata" in Milan and Rome10. Another soprano saxophone quartet (Anthony Braxton, Lol Coxhill, Steve Lacy, Evan Parker) and also a soprano saxophone duo (!) featuring Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker in the "Company 7" line-up are particularly worth mentioning in this context. Neither of the above-mentioned projects is known to have included a Steve Lacy/Evan Parker soprano saxophone duo.

Hg 09. Evan Parker's duo experiences are, as might be expected considering his background, influenced by his encounters with soloists from the European, mainly English Free and New jazz scene. Their music is not as a rule thematically-melodic or rhythmically bound. It is made up of highly developed tone and sound structures. He performs notably often with percussionists such as Paul Lytton11 and John Stevens12 and the guitarist Derek Bailey13 who has committed himself uncompromisingly to the aesthetics of noise. Duos with wind instrument players14, piano players and other instrumentalists15 are only occasionally documented.

Hg 10. Steve Lacy on the other hand (Hg O9) played above all with duo partners belonging to the Afro-American scene, to stylisticly different expressions of a progressive Jazz-idiom, whose music often has a thematic, rhythmic and/or harmonic bound structure. Mal Waldron18 is an outstanding figure in a line of pianists (Muhal Richard Abrams, Bobby Few, Takashi Kako, Michael Smith16 and Tchangodei17). A part from wind instrument duets with the trumpeter Leo Smith, the clarinettist John Carter and the bass clarinettist Walter Zuber-Armstrong19 we must mention a soprano saxophone duo the "Three Points Suite"20. Appearances as a duo with Steve Potts who also plays the alto saxophone only took place after 1987.

Hg 11. In the first part of the concert on the 18th of July 1985 Evan Parker appears as a soprano saxophone soloist. He plays three improvised "pieces", each lasting about ten minutes, which differ in terms of pitch but are musically and technically similar. He alters the sound structure of endless arpeggio chains produced by circular breathing within a minimalistic concept by manipulating blow and finger techniques as well as shifting emphasis and intervals.

Hg 12. The second part of the same concert (Hg 11) features Steve Lacy, also playing soprano saxophone solos. Lacy briefly interprets two compositions - "Eronel" and "Thelonious" - by Thelonious Monk21 followed by the three-part suite "Sands"22. In his improvisation he associatively permutates tonal shifts, reflections, inversions or sound changes, enlarging and contrasting the composition's motif-material, but never straying from within its bounds.

Foreground. Before the above-mentioned Hg 01-12 the soprano saxophonists Steve Lacy and Evan Parker appear in the third part of the concert in the "Haus am Waldsee" in Berlin on 18th July 1985. The three improvised duo pieces later called "Full Scale ", "Relations " and " Twittering". After the concert - the audience has already left the scene - the two musicians play three more, shorter, likewise improvised duos23.

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1 The chemical symbol for Mercury is used deliberately.

2 Three pieces from the year 1954 feature Steve Lacy on the clarinet.

3 The only known exception is the tenorsolo "Live in Hadano"

recorded 1982 in Japan.

4 For example, the legendary saxophone sections of the Duke Ellington Orchestra or the "Four Brothers" of the Woody Herman Band.

5 Wardell Gray/Dexter Gordon, Al Cohn/Zoot Sims, John Coltrane/Sonny Rollins and others.

6 "The World Saxophone Quartet" and "Rova Saxophone Quartet" only became known after 1977 and later gained renown and importance. Both Evan Parker and Steve Lacy performed with the latter - Evan Parker in 1980 and Steve Lacy in 1983.

7 The record "Saxophone Special" - Emanem 3310.

8 "Evidence" - FMP-0220, "Into The Valley" - FMP-0270,

"Compositions" - Japo-60027

9 Records "Company 5" - Incus-28, "Company 6" - Incus-29,

"Company 7" - Incus-30.

10 "Laboratorio della Quercia" - Horo-HDP 39-40.

11 "Collective Calls" - Incus-5, "At the Unity Theatre" - Incus-14,

"Ra" - MoersMusic-01016.

12 "The Longest Night" - Ogun-120, Ogun-420.

13 "The London Concerts" - Incus-16 and in "Company"Sessions.

14 Among others with the trombone player George Lewis.

"From Saxophone & Trombone" - Incus-35.

15 With the Californian pianist Greg Goodman "Abracadabra" - Metalanguage-ML 104, with the English bass player Barry Guy

"Incision" - FMP-SAJ-35.

16 "Sidelines" - I.A.I.-373847

17 "The Wasp" - Volcanic- 15010.

18 "Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy 1-3" - hatArt-CD6071, 6072, 6073,

"Sempre Amore" - SoulNote-SN1170, and others.

19 "Alter Ego" - WorldArtists-WA 1004, "Call Notes" WorldArtists-WA 1005.

20 "Points" - LeChantDuMonde-LDX74680.

21 In 1960 Steve Lacy worked with the pianist/composer Thelonious Monk for some months. In 1963, together with the trombone player Roswell Rudd, he directed a group which devoted itself exclusively to the interpretation of Monk's compositions. Since the end of the Seventies he has regularly been playing extend sequencies of Monk's composition in his solo performances.

22 Composition - Steve Lacy, texts - Samuel Beckett, the pieces are entitled "Stand", "Jump" and "Fall", the original version for sextet and dance performance - unpublished.

23 The recording of the three concert pieces was originally published as a record "Chirps" - FMP-SAJ-53, this CD also contains the complete concert recording with the addition of three improvisations recorded after the concert.


Translation: Margaret Neuendorf

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