"The Steve Lacy Repertory Co. (featuring Irène Aebi's heartily distinctive voice – supported by a gruff voiced Lacy on Usual) is wide awake and fired up on The Gleam, their Silkheart debut. Lacy's assertions concerning the advantage of having a regular working unit with the opportunity to dig into material to make the music thrive and grow are certainly born out here."
Milo Fine, Cadence, May 1988
My present group has existed since the early seventies. It was formed in Paris and with a couple of personnel changes here and there it's been fairly stable for over a decade now. This is a big advantage, and the reason is that playing with the same people over a period of years you can take chances together because you have a chemistry that works and you have a long experience together and therefore, well, you can be more free together. It's very important to be able to play with the same people all the time, I think, because that way you can make some progress. Because they're friends and they trust you and you trust them. And you have the freedom to take risks together and the possibility of making magic because you know each other so well that you can achieve, well, magic is the only word for it. Not every night, but sometimes.
The other advantage is to play the same material over a period of years so as to know it better, so as also to be able to take more liberties with it. Because you know it over a period of ten years and therefore you can really take chances with it, you can really take it on out. So, if you have the same people playing the same material over a long period of time you can play it very well, but you can also risk to go to sleep if the material is not interesting enough. So this was my whole quest all these years, for interesting enough material played by good enough players so as to really find something truly challenging and alive. And I really think we've got it now with the current band.
STEVE POTTS, the alto and soprano saxophone, we've been together for about twelve years now and what we do is an indissoluble unity. It's like two players making one sound, and I can never sleep with Steve Potts because he always is going to keep me on my toes at all moments, I need this constant challenge. I think that inspiration is very important and on my right hand I have it all the time.
IRENE AEBI, the vocalist and violin and cello player in the band, well we met in '66 in Rome. And basically, that's the voice, it's like the heart of the music and she's got the ear, the golden ear. It's been a long story of collaboration together but basically hers is the voice that allowed me to find the way to use the word in the jazz. And that's no mean feat, because the voice had almost gone out of jazz in the fifties, largely I mean. When the music really got turbulent in the sixties and all that, there was no place for the voice or for the song for that matter. So my job was to bring the song form back into the jazz and Irene had the voice that allowed me to experiment over a long period of years and ultimately to achieve this result, this new substance, which contains the jazz music and the voice and the words.
Now the texts we use for the pieces we pIay, well there are many of them and they're all different. Each one is a different case that might come from a poet, it might be from a letter, a postcard, a wall slogan, something I find in a newspaper. But the important thing is that Irene being the voice, well the primary consideration is simply is it something she can say? Is it something that she would want to say? Will she want to say it again long enough so as to learn how to do it. So the interest of the text is primary. And then after that, it's a question of careful consideration and setting the text to musical pitches and rhythms and then learning them and performing them.
That takes a long time. Sometimes it could take ten or twenty years between the time that you receive the words and you deliver the song. And I think music like that can sound very surprising at first and it may take awhile before it sounds normal, and that's OK, but it's different with every tune really. And it's different with every time, and you can't generalize about it.
BOBBY FEW is the key to this band, of course, the keyboard man. The piano is very important in this group because it's the best instrument to support the voice when singing. For a singer there's nothing better than a piano for accompaniment. So, I mean, even if we have the drums and the bass and the saxophones and all that, well we need the keyboard. Bobby Few comes from Cleveland and is almost as old as I am and he's one of the reasons I moved to Paris from Rome. Because, as I said before, you need good musicians to play with and I saw that there were more and better musicians in Paris around '69 or '70. And so Irene and I moved to Paris and Bobby Few was one of the reasons. One of the flash musicians I met at that time and now he plays with me in our band. Well, it's like a dream come true for me.
JEAN-JACQUES AVENEL at the bass, is our own discovery. We heard him when he was just out of his teens and almost an amateur, and he's been playing with us a long time in Paris. J.-J. is as good as one can get, and getting better! He has a unique approach to a great tradition and is one of the best bassists in Europe, or anywhere.
OLIVER JOHNSON at the drums; you know, a drummer is the number one requirement of the jazz to me. Jazz to me without the drums is inconceivable, except as a relief sometimes. But really at the heart of the jazz is the drums and so a really good drummer who knows what to plays is my primary need. I've always been very lucky and been associated with many, many good drummers all the time of my playing career. And, well, Oliver has been with us for about ten years now and he's the greatest, that's all I could say.
STEVE LACY, soprano saxophone. I've been working on the soprano saxophone for quite a few years now, maybe 33 years. I went on with it and after awhile I realized that I was all alone. It had been abandoned by the older players and not taken up by the newer players and it was in a state of limbo. This was both fearful and challenging for me, the field was mine. There was nothing to go by and I had to make it in my own fashion, in my own way. I had to find my own guides and models and my own music, because there was nothing suitable written for it. I looked around for many years and tried to write my own music, but until I was able to do that I nurtured myself on many other musics; Charlie Parker, Anton Webern, Ellington, Kurt Weill, old standard tunes, whatever I could find that would fit.
And then one day I discovered Thelonious Monk's music and, well, that music really fit the horn and myself and was exactly what I was looking for. I really explored that music for a long time, both on the saxophone and on the piano, to see how it was structured. And finally, at the end of that long period I began to uncover my own music and started to write my own pieces, which I'm still playing.
1. Gay Paree Bop 09:04
2. Napping (Take 1) 08:58
3. The Gleam 07:41
4. As Usual 12:03
5. Keepsake 10:22
6. Napping (Take 2) 10:28
Steve Lacy soprano saxophone
Steve Potts alto & soprano saxophone
Irène Aebi vocals, violin
Bobby Few piano
Jean-Jacques Avenel bass
Oliver Johnson drums