Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet

The late-90s reappearance of trombonist Roswell Rudd–who retreated to academia in the 70s and the Catskills in the late 80s–is one of the happier chapters in recent jazz history. And it’s not just that he’s finally earned some long-deserved recognition for his contributions to free jazz in the 60s–the guy sounds as good as ever. Last summer’s reunion of the New York Art Quartet–the short-lived group he led with saxist John Tchicai, drummer Milford Graves, and bassist Reggie Workman–met with enough fanfare to inspire a studio recording: 35th Reunion (DIW), a powerful dose of collective improvisation that’s as focused, intuitive, and bracing as anything you’re likely to hear from younger improvisers. Rudd’s rare appearance in Chicago this week is the product of another old partnership: he met saxophonist Steve Lacy in the late 50s while playing Dixieland in Eli’s Chosen Six, and the two took the form’s collective improvisation into a whole new realm. In addition to working with pianist Cecil Taylor, they eventually formed a quartet that may have been jazz’s first repertory band, focusing exclusively on the music of Thelonious Monk at a time when many jazz fans still regarded the pianist’s work with suspicion, if not outright hatred. Lacy and Rudd were the first musicians outside of Monk’s own groups to focus on the harmonic complexity of his tunes as well as their melodic trickiness, but they earned little respect for their efforts. The only document of their work is a dodgy live recording made in 1963 (and not issued until 12 years later), but to this day it reveals a rarely matched interplay and sensitivity to the composer’s work. On their first proper studio album, the new Monk’s Dream (Verve), with bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch, they tackle just two Monk tunes, but they take a similar approach to Lacy’s own compositions, extracting all sorts of engrossing melodic twists. Lacy’s playing just keeps getting more lyrical, and while Rudd still embraces the prebop gutbucket glory of the trombone, his arsenal of guttural growls and sibilant hisses can put most contemporary improvisers to shame. Wednesday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.