Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet

Early and Late
Cuneiform Records Rune 250/251

Slightly deceptively titled this memorable two-CD set celebrates the four-decades-long collaboration between trombonist Roswell Rudd and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. The title is ambiguous because while four tracks are by the legendary 1962 Lacy-Rudd quartet, the remaining nine showcase the reconstituted partnership late (1999) and very late (2002) in its tenure – Lacy died in 2004.

Overall the quartet – featuring bassist Bob Cunningham and drummer Dennis Charles in 1962 and bassist Jean- Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch later on – performs the timeless repertoire that characterized Lacy-Rudd meetings in the intervening years: single lines by Cecil Taylor, Herbie Nichols and Rudd plus five originals by Lacy and a large helping of Thelonious Monk’s music, which the two championed years before its adoption by the repertory movement.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between 1962 and afterwards, is the bright, neo-Dixie textures of both soloists. Young Lacy could be playing clarinet and young Rudd’s tailgate slurs are obvious. Combining inverted sticking and press rolls, Charles’ playing is unique as well, although the bassist is merely a walker.

Skip forward and the horns’ pitches have darkened, but each man’s attack is more supple and distinctive. Avenel’s strumming pulses and double-stopping is at a similar high level, as are Betsch’s rolls and rebounds. The result is a bittersweet concoction emphasizing Rudd’s gruff smears and Lacy’s pinched trills. Lacy’s “Blinks” becomes a slippery tone poem with the soprano’s peeping split tones buoyant, while the trombonist’s low-pitched snorts and rhythmic breaths encompass nods to Kid Ory and “Chattanooga Choo Choo”.

This intermingling of sweet and sour is most evident on Rudd’s “Bamako”, given a Latinesque bounce by Betsch. Lacy’s unrestrained note-holding open up into legato phrasing, while Rudd, referencing “Take the A Train” and “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” chromatically builds a solo out of bitten-off notes and elongated smears, concluding with gutbucket growls.

Sadly this duo will never play again.

— Ken Waxman

In MusicWorks Issue #101