Classic Monk tunes given new twists by soprano saxophonist Lacy in this essential...
John Eyles 2003
This re-released CD has a wonderfully atmospheric picture on the front cover, a slightly blurry black & white photo of Steve Lacy and Thelonious Monk playing at Jazz Gallery, NYC in 1960. Cecil Taylor originally turned Lacy on to Monk, and Lacy recorded his first version of a Monk song while in Taylor's quartet.
Ever since, throughout his massive discography, Lacy has repeatedly returned to the compositions of Monk. From his earliest group albums such as Reflections, Evidence and School Days, through solo recordings like Only Monk and More Monk, to the recent Monk's Dream - a period of well over forty years - Lacy has established himself as the greatest Monk interpreter, bar none. In the process, Lacy has kept Monk's compositions in the spotlight and immeasurably enhanced Monk's reputation as a composer. True symbiosis.
We See dates from 1992, and is one of the essential Lacy discs. It features his regular quartet of the time (Steve Potts/Jean-Jacques Avenel/John Betsch) plus Hans Kennel on trumpet and Sonhando Estwick on vibes, an unusual instrumentation for Lacy. From the opening notes of "We See" itself, played on the vibes, the sound is very different to most Lacy (and most Monk). The use of the vibes is inspired. Their lighter, brighter tone helps Lacy to reinvent the music, important on a piece such as "Evidence" that he has recorded many times.
Across the eleven tracks here, there is great variety of sound, with the full sextet used only sparingly. Avenel plays "Eronel" completely as a solo bass piece, a fine display of fluent, melodic playing. Lacy uses "Reflections" and "Monks Mood" as solo showcases for his own playing. And "Shuffle Boil" and "Thelonious" are both performed by the trio of Lacy, Avenel and Betsch. On these tracks, Lacy is in the spotlight and shows his mastery of Monk's music. He makes it sound flowing and effortless, as natural as breathing; in other hands it frequently sounds just the opposite.
Above all of those, though, I would choose "Ruby My Dear", performed as a duo by Lacy and Potts, both playing soprano sax. The two lines weave around each other, Lacy and Potts displaying an intuitive knowledge of each others playing based on their decades together. Mesmerising. Lacy's own "Hanky-Panky" closes the album and fits seamlessly into the programme, having some of Monk's left-field logic. As a tribute, it is as fitting as everything that has gone before.