Few musicians have dedicated themselves as thoroughly to understanding the complexities and nuances of Thelonious Monk’s music as soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy has. He played with the man himself back in 1960, later formed a Monk repertorial group with trombonist Roswell Rudd, and has recorded numerous Monk programs over the decades–including several brilliant duo albums with pianist Mal Waldron and the 18-minute medley that kicks off his Solo: Live at Unity Temple (Wobbly Rail), recorded in November 1997 in Oak Park. On that latest interpretation he makes the difficult but brilliant melodies seem like child’s play, but closer inspection reveals his subtly inventive tweaking: the delicate shadows on “Thelonious,” the elongated melody of “Skippy.” As he says in the liner notes to the recently reissued early-80s sextet recording Blinks, “When you play something new it’s stiff–you have to play it again and again and again and after awhile it gets malleable.” Lacy knows how important it is to have the raw material–the tunes–readily accessible, but he’s also a firm believer in the essential spontaneity and intuitiveness of jazz. On his new album, Sands (Tzadik), although he revisits older gems like “The Dumps” and the title track, there are surprises aplenty, from the gorgeously elusive “Naufrage J.” (for which he blew his sax into a piano with the sustain pedal down) to a new setting for his old pal Allen Ginsberg’s “Song.” On Thursday, Lacy performs solo; next Friday he’ll be joined by his regular bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch. Thursday, March 18, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. Next Friday, March 19, 9 PM, Velvet Lounge, 2128 1/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Frans Schellekens.