Here’s how the joke goes. Two cars pull up to a red light. One of them is driven by a trombonist, the other by a frog. What’s the difference? Nothing—except that the frog probably has a gig to go to.
Ah yes, that most maligned of jazz instruments—the trombone. It invariably sounds so muddy and fat that even in the hands of a skilled musician it is a poor substitute for almost any other instrument—violin, accordian, kazoo, you name it. The trombone seems especially unsuited for more adventurous compositions, since even if the player can keep up with all the changes, it still ends up sounding blurpy and indistinct compared to the nimble motility of the clarinet or any of the saxophones. Which is why the work of Roswell Rudd has always been so remarkable. Sultry, supple and full of intelligence, Rudd’s work on the trombone makes one rethink the black sheep of the jazz family. In Lacy’s characteristically exceptional soprano sax, Rudd has found—or re-found—a perfect compliment to his inspired (no, really!) playing. “Monk’s Dream” shows that neither Lacy nor Rudd has slowed down even a bit since they first played together almost forty years ago in the School Days quartet and that, together, they can create music that is greater than the sum of their very substantial individual talents.
Monk’s Dream is adventurous and exciting throughout, providing each player plenty of opportunities to show off their range. Six of the nine tracks are Lacy compositions—three new ones, three from the ‘80s and ‘90s. The rest of the disc is rounded out by Theolonious Monk’s “Monk’s Dream” and “Pannonica,” and Duke Ellington’s “Koko.” Lacy has channeled the spirit of Monk on so many occasions that it’s surprising to hear how much energy and passion he can still get out of a standard like “Monk’s Dream.” Trombone and sax dart in, out and around one another perfectly, giving one of Monk’s signature songs fresh legs. Lacy’s “A Bright Pearl” and “Traces” features the classically-influenced Irene Aebi on vocals. Aebi sounds more like Ute Lemper than a jazz chanteuse, which shouldn’t be taken a a criticism. For two tracks in the middle of the disc we head off into Kurt Weill meets Albert Ayler territory, before re-emerging into a marvelously spirited post-bop rendition of “Koko”. Joining Rudd and Lacy for all the fun are Lacy’s longtime collaborators, Jean-Jacques Avenel (double bass) and John Betsch (drums), who do the same standout work that they always do.
Rudd and Lacy are both known as almost obsessive devotees of Monk’s music. Indeed, the School Days quartet only played Monk’s music, which at the time seemed to be (and indeed, was) financial if not artistic suicide. Given their fine work on Monk’s Dream, it would be great to hear Rudd and Lacy work together on future projects that explore (as Rudd did with the songs of Herbie Nichol’s on Regeneration) some less canonical compositions, and which continue to move in the unexpected and exciting directions traced out here.