With an Apollonian ear for melody and almost superhuman technique, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy is god to two kinds of jazzheads -- post-boppers and outcats. More than 40 years ago, Lacy heard the genius of Thelonious Monk and devoted entire albums to playing his music -- long before it was trendy to do so. He also worked with pianist and composer Cecil Taylor as early as 1953, at the forefront of the avant-garde revolution. Unlike many of his free-jazz contemporaries, who sought pure self-expression by breaking away from notes on the page, Lacy found paradoxical freedom by thoroughly exploring well-written songs.
Today he still approaches a single song from myriad angles -- legato phrasing to smooth out a tune or fiery staccato bursts for extra punch -- and not unlike John Coltrane, he never exhausts interpretive possibilities. Lacy seems to live inside the melodies: Always lyrical, he flexes deep knowledge of jazz tradition with a masterful cool and robust tone, yet never succumbs to cliche or bravado.
At 63, Steve Lacy records new albums at the feverish pace of someone half his age. This year alone, he's on at least four memorable releases: Blinks (a double-disc collection of duos, quintets, and sextets); Communique (duets with pianist Mal Waldron); Five Facings (duets with five world-class pianists, including Marilyn Crispell); and 5 x Monk 5 x Lacy (a brilliant solo outing).
Lacy, who's lived in Europe since 1967, appears infrequently in the Bay Area; in the past five years he's played only a short stint at Yoshi's. That means one thing to jazzheads of all persuasions: Reserve tickets early.