Mal Waldron Steve Lacy

June 19, 2024

The Mighty Warriors Live in Antwerp
Elemental Records 5000446

Most clearly delineated as a two-CD set, rather than its four LP configuration, this live 1995 recital from Antwerp, Belgium provides alternate glimpses of four masterful improvisers at top of their form. Led by pianist Mail Waldron (1925-2002), and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, who died at 69, 20 years ago this month, the so-called backing players were bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille, both of whom are still with us.

Free Jazz players before the term was in common usage, Lacy and Waldron first recorded together in 1958, and by the 1970s, when both had expatriated to Europe, frequently collaborated. Their initial connection was the music of Thelonious Monk. Lacy, who briefly was part of Monk group, consistently played Monk’s music throughout his career, Waldon, who worked with everyone from Charles Mingus to Billie Holiday, was one of the first pianists to be influenced by Monk. Of course Cyrille, who was a long-time Cecil Taylor associate and Workman, who was in John Coltrane’s quartet, easily fit in with this duo.

That’s where musical duality come into focus. CD1 has the quartet interpreting two Monk compositions and one each by the leaders. CD2 is made up of two pieces that clock in on either side of 25 minutes. The second is a medley of Waldon’s compositions, “Snake Out/Variations On A Theme By Cecil Taylor”; the first is Workman’s “Variation Of III” the concert’s most challenging performance.

Contrasting the bassist’s stirring introduction, which feints and flutters from wide arco sways to a walking bass line, in counterpoint the pianist slows down the tempo on “Variation …” to a Monkish hunt-and-peck. Suddenly he augments the theme into a near piano-concerto awash with honky-tonk blues and jagged swing references as an instance of the tail wagging the dog. When Lacy finally joins in, his frequent key and pitch changes rejuvenates the initial exposition.

Shifting among even, expressive and energetic motifs, the Waldron medley suggests the detours and emphasis Cyrille’s drum kit and cymbal beats would have provided to Taylor with Lacy’s surprising near-Bop melodiousness, until unison affiliations from the pianist and saxophonist build up to a distinctive narrative.

The sophistication of multiple variations is put to its best use on CD1. Lacy’s pointillist bites and Waldon’s piledriver chording and askew variations animate “Epistrophy” and “Monk’s Dream” to the extent that with firm rhythm section backing the four create performances that are simultaneously idiosyncratic and familiar.

Although not a working group the set shows how mighty musical warriors can immediately meld to create decidedly profound sounds.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1:: 1. What It Is 2. Epistrophy 3. Longing 4. Monk’s Dream CD 2: 1. Variation Of III 2. Medley: Snake Out/Variations On A Theme By Cecil Taylor

Personnel: Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone); Mal Waldron (piano); Reggie Workman (bass) and Andrew Cyrille (drums)