Steve Lacy

School Days
Emanem 5016

By Ken Waxman

Nearly 50 years later it seems unbelievable, but this all-star quartet broke up after a couple of years of almost no work because few wanted to support a band that exclusively played what was then thought of as far-out music by pianist/composer Thelonious Monk. Yet, on the basis of the material recorded here in 1963, with Henry Grimes stentorian walking bass timbres and Dennis Charles’ free-flowing drum beats on side, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd were already so familiar with the Monk cannon that they were able to create their own swinging variations on such now-familiar Monk fare as Monk’s Dream and Brilliant Corners.

The seven spiky and unconventional songs, recorded in a New York coffee house by the late Toronto poet Paul Haines, then resident in Manhattan, demonstrate how Lacy’s gritty, yet lyrical tones imposingly blended with the modern gutbucket styling of Rudd. These treatments of Monk’s inimitable compositions also suggest the distinctive concepts that would help Lacy (1934-2004) develop into a major improviser and admired composer during the rest of his life.

As an added bonus this reissue contains two bootleg sound quality tracks – not recorded by Haines – from a 1960 jazz festival appearance with Lacy as a member of a Monk combo of heavyweights, the pianist, drummer Roy Haynes, bassist John Ore and tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Historically matchless, the versions of Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are and Skippy provide insight, showing how Lacy’s tart, taut tone created a sonic role for itself within the tight-knit group’s performances.

— For Whole Note Vol. 17 #4