Despite his reputation as one of the jazz world's most determined improvisers, saxophonist Steve Lacy is a simple man at heart. The opening set of his trio's two-night run at the Jazz Bakery on Monday included nothing so complex or detailed that it couldn't be followed. In fact, Lacy's approach was so accessible and inviting that it was impossible not to fall under his spell.
Playing from a new trio album, "Bye-Ya" recorded in France, Lacy, bassist Jean-Jacque Avenel and drummer John Betsch took things easy, stating Lacy's simple themes, which often consist of nothing more than straight ascending or descending lines, then moving off into unhurried, plain-spoken improvisations. There was little here that was frantic or morbidly subdued. Instead, the trio worked in a narrow tonal and emotional range that exuded straightforward confidence.
A long-standing champion of the soprano saxophone, Lacy created round, relaxed sounds that carried just a hint of vibrato. He favored short, to-the-point phrases as he soloed, and these simple, often surprising lines developed simply on their way to clear-cut resolution. Everything he played seemed so melodically logical and reasoned that it often seemed familiar.
This fondness for the simply stated explains Lacy's ongoing fascination with the music of Thelonious Monk. Monk tunes fit neatly into this program of Lacy originals, as if the saxophonist had penned them himself. Lacy's "The Rent," backed by Betsch's rolling, Latin-feel drums, resembled Monk in its quirky deliberateness.
The saxophonist varied his approach slightly on "Somebody's at the Door," bringing throaty overtones and notes obscured by breath to his play. Only once, during "The Rent," did he employ the kind of high-pitched cries so popular among soprano players, and then only briefly as a contrast to a delicate phrase set against a flurry of drums. "Longing" brought out the saxophonist's mysterious side as he posed exotic questions against Betsch's subtle mallet play.
* The Steve Lacy Trio plays the M Bar & Grill, 213-A Pine Ave., Long Beach; Friday-Saturday, 9:30 and 11 p.m. $12 in advance, $14 at the door. (562) 435-2525.