Steve Lacy/John Heward

Recessional (for Oliver Johnson)
Mode Avant 04

Culmination of a 20-year friendship, Montreal drummer John Heward’s and American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy’s first – and last – duo concert is preserved on this CD. A less-than-39-minute bagatelle, Recessional gains added poignancy due to Lacy’s death from cancer a year later.

It’s fitting that the live show honored Oliver Johnson, long-time drummer in the saxophonist’s Paris-based sextet. For Heward, a renowned Canadian painter and sculptor, has recently evolved into an avocational percussionist, proficient enough to play with improv masters like multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee and violinist Malcolm Goldstein

Sensitive yet sturdy, Heward’s duple meter rumbles, cymbal slaps, press rolls and drum-top pitter patter provide the perfect backdrop for Lacy’s improvisations, which after all are the main draw here. Unobtrusive, he fluidly marks tempo and timbre changes along with the saxophonist.

Lyrical and polyphonic with a suggestion of both “Taps” and tap dancing, the main theme is the finale of the concert. Repetitive, melancholy and celebratory, it culminates in an emphasized, echoing split tone from Lacy.

Earlier, the saxophonist, who first defined the soprano’s role in modern jazz, displays his matchless technique. He produces a wide, almost Dixieland-like vibrato at times, and straight, sharp clipped tones elsewhere. Flutter tonguing, double-tonguing and reverberating his body tube, his collection of quacks, snarls and growls is second to none. Yet never do these narrowed, nasal pitches or spit-encrusted obbligatos fail to communicate. Jittery reed-biting textures plus rubato tongue-stopping surround concise story-telling phrases. Meanwhile, the drummer uses bell ringing, kalimba scrapes and press rolls to underline and extend the multiphonic interface.

Never to be repeated, the CD faithfully captures a moment in time.

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 330