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JAZZ REVIEW : Lacy's Splendid Solo Sojourn

July 21, 1993

Performing solo leaves a jazz artist with nothing to fall back on should the imagination falter. In his first solo concert ever in California, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy had no need for any kind of safety net during two 40-minute sets in front of enthusiastic crowds that packed System M in Long Beach on Monday.

Lacy opened each set with a suite of Thelonious Monk compositions followed by several of his own pieces. "Evidence" was the only reasonably well-known Monk song in the opening set and the skeletal melody provided a wealth of jumping-off points for Lacy's economical improvisations.

But it was already clear by then that the initial statement of the themes were merely touchstones in an ongoing melodic excursion. His short, sharp phrases never fell prey to repetition or empty, flashy torrents of notes and each one invariably became the springboard to a new one that unfolded organically. Lacy tossed in occasional quicksilver runs and silent pauses to break up some passages.

His use of the soprano's tonal qualities--from high-pitched overtones to breathy, primeval grunts--was also unfailingly musical. During his own "Blues for Ida," Lacy played into the stage wall to create deeper tonal resonance.

Lacy's full sextet (a quintet sans vocalist/violinist Irene Aebi for the Los Angeles dates) winds up its three-day engagement at Catalina's tomorrow.

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