Wailing Weals and Woes,
This review is from: Weal and Woe (Audio CD)
Before I get carried away and lull you into buying this CD, you should be aware that Emanem have recently withdrawn this CD as it has now been superseded by two discs with additional material on each, The Sun (1967-1973) - Steve lacy and Avignon and After Vol.1 (1972/1974) - Steve Lacy.
Possibly the reason for the splitting of the original Weal and Woe is the only possible downfall that the original had - the fact that it was essentially two different albums. The first half consists of Lacy playing solo at Avignon and the second half is A quintet piece, the anti-war piece 'The Woe'. With some albums, the splitting of a disk into two sections made up of seemingly disparate material can give an impression of schizophrenia. But this album has never made me feel that way, which is a credit not just to the integrity of the performances but also to Martin Davidson's production values.
The two parts of the album are clearly distinct from one another but the programming of the Avignon solo pieces first means that they act as something of a prelude to 'The Woe'. in these 8 pieces, Lacy explores some of the wider techniques of saxophone sound that became very much his own. Along with the other key solo material that was released by Emanem, Lacy's 'Hooky' Hooky: Solo in Montreal 1976, this is amongst his most accessible solo performances and you can clearly hear what he is trying to explore. Unlike some of the more recent moves in improvised music, Lacy is focused entirely on the sound of the saxophone, rather than trying to find ways to make his instrument sound like something else. The title of one of the chapters of his book, Findings (which all musicians should try to track down, regardless of their instrument), gives a clear insight into what Lacy was trying to do: Sax Can Moo. Yes,he is trying to coax new sounds from the horn, but he is also firmly rooted in being a saxophonist.
While this is beautiful music, this is not the complete Avignon concert. the remaining material - along with everything from the solo section of this CD - is available on the Avignon and After release.
The wide range of explorative research that Lacy conducts in these solos pieces leads us easily into 'The Woe', Lacy's anti-war suite, complete with battle sounds drifting through the background. 'The Woe' is performed by quintet with Lacy being joined by regular partner Steve Potts on alto saxophone, Irene Aebi on cello and voice, Kent Cartermon double bass and Oliver Johnson on drums. It consists of 4 parts, totally around 30 minutes of music and is much fiercer and harsh than the solo pieces. But because of that, it becomes less a moan and more a wail. This is true protest music, combining the underlying moods of anger and grief in a way that few other people were ever able to do.
This is excellent music from start to finish and the music itself is essential listening. But should you buy this CD? Only if you can't afford the two new releases. If you are able to, buy the discs that Emanem have replaced the original 'Weal and Woe' with. That way, you get the full Avignon concert plus all the other extras that the two disks have been loaded with. If you can't afford both, and if this disk comes up at an impossibly low price, then buy it and listen to it endlessly until you can save up enough for the new releases.