Since first recording in the late 1950s, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy has been one of the most prolific musicians on the planet, with well over 100 releases to his name. Now, with the addition of the double CD Snips to his catalogue, there is another document of Lacy’s not infrequent forays into what must be one of the most demanding of performance situations, solo improvised saxophone.
In Lacy’s case this type of performance situation is made even more demanding by the fact that he does not really anchor his improvisations in melody or anything close to regular changes. Rather, he tends to set out fairly elemental musical ideas bit by bit, playing a passage over and over with slight variation until the idea has exhausted itself and he can move on. While Lacy’s approach may strike listeners as being naïve at times, his thoroughness shows him to be very deliberate and very sophisticated, as if he is working out a whole new vocabulary piece by piece. At the same time though, his approach seems very much rooted in the situation, in the creative spark of the moment. I would imagine that sitting in the Environ loft in 1976 in New York, the site of this recording, would have been quite exciting, and not just because it was Lacy’s first solo show in the U.S., but because he displays such an obvious commitment to exploring new sounds. The problem though is the fact that what is new and exciting, what is built out of the sheer desire to create, does not always transcend the moment. Therefore, while Snips is an interesting artifact of a moment in a performer’s career, and of a time in New York, it doesn’t always make for the most compelling listening. Part of the problem here is the fact that this recording was made by a fan using fairly rudimentary equipment, which means that the recording itself ranges from poor to bad. Thus on “Hooky” where Lacy shouts out “don’t go to school / don’t go to school” and then proceeds to play off the rhythm of his voice, the impact is totally lost given how muted his voice is. The problem is even worse on “Underline (Fire)”, a section of a longer pieced called “The Four Edges”, where Lacy repeats a mantra vocally, and then plays out the rhythms on his horn. You can sort of hear what’s going on, but not really in any satisfying way. It left me thinking, I bet that was cool, wish I was there to really hear it.