Originally posted on June 20, 2008
With the resurrection of ESP Records has come the welcome reissue of some early free jazz classics. I will touch upon a few in the next week or so. First of all, ESP for those who don’t know was one of the first underground labels to come out of the ‘60s and the burgeoning New York world of beats, bohemians, the avant-garde jazz community and such.
One of the more important releases was actually recorded in Italy. Steve Lacy made a stir in the ‘50s jazz world as the only important new soprano sax player since Sidney Bechet exploded out of New Orleans in the ‘20s (actually Bechet was even earlier, but not with big recognition until then). John Coltrane took up the soprano with great results by around 1960, but before that, absolutely no one was playing it but Steve.
After some critically acclaimed dates with Cecil Taylor and Roswell Rudd in the fifties and beyond, Lacy became an expatriate in the mid-sixties and recorded The Forest and the Zoo at the beginning of that period. It was his first truly “free” recording and sported a wonderful quartet that included Enrico Rava on trumpet. The album consists of two long interrelated sides of loose but probing improvisations. The whole group gets a sound that uniquely communicates and Lacy is a puckish presence throughout. Having heard this recording for so many years it is hard for me to reconstruct a first-time experience for someone today. I can say that one can listen to the record many times and get more out of it as one goes. That is, if one has an open mind. Any musician or music lover who wants to understand where modern music has come from would benefit from repeated listenings. That’s all for now.