Besides Steve Lacy, no other serious jazz artist has devoted his entire career to the soprano saxophone. It’s a problematic and unforgiving instrument that lacks the emotional range and flexibility usually associated with the saxophone family, yet Lacy has turned the instrument’s flaws into virtues. For instance, he eschews the glossy lines with which most players attempt to minimize the soprano’s intonation problems. Instead, he transforms the horn’s inconstancy into malleability, molding and shaping its sound so that it suggests a three-dimensional object; his starkly measured improvisations allow for a full appreciation of that sound, and of the improvising process itself. What’s more, Lacy has ruggedly bucked the trends throughout his career, first by even adopting the soprano in the 1950s (almost a decade before John Coltrane popularized the instrument), then by focusing on the music of Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk when those giants still puzzled most listeners, and then by forming a band that costarred another soprano sax. Such uncompromising individualism has pushed a bunch of buttons in the critical fraternity (and won him a MacArthur “genius” grant); consequently, we tend to lionize him while his work remains too challenging for mainstream listeners. But the taste for Lacy’s music is well worth acquiring. His angular musical thinking, as quirkily textured as his sound, never fails to edify; and when he plays solo, as he will in Chicago, his performance becomes a series of simply declaimed and spectacularly focused poems. Monday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lauren Deutsch.