When I first thought about doing a ‘Vinyl Revisions’ series, there were three records that came to mind: Anthony Braxton’s Five Pieces 1975, The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Reese & The Smooth Ones, and this record. I already looked back at the Braxton record, and will soon finish my look at the AEC record, but both of those share something missing from this record – a digital release! That is right, Braxton’s record was released as part of a massive collection a few years ago, and the AEC record appeared for a very short time a while back on CD. You can find the SONG ‘The Wire’ digitally, but not the whole album. Let’s take a look:
The Wire is a 1975 recording by a Japanese sextet that included Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone, Masahiko Satoh on piano, Masahiko Togashi on percussion, Keiki Midorikawa on cello and bass, Yoshio Ikeda on bass, and Motoharu Yoshizawa on bass. If you note a preponderance of low-frequency strings, you are correct! Although clearly identifiable as ‘free jazz’, there are strong compositions and structures to accompany the wild improvisation.
The Twain – the opening of this song is a defining moment for the record and for everything Lacy was doing in the 70’s. It is powerful, dissonant, chilling, and gorgeous all at once. It sounds random, but quickly you realize that it isn’t just composed, it is a major thematic element of the song.
Esteem – One of the core elements of this song is alternating high frequency wailing between the soprano saxophone and cello – and honestly that drove my family nuts as I listened! The song is full of non-harmonic elements, and as my older son said ‘there seems to be no harmony or rhythm’. But as I pointed out the rhythm and the harmonic elements he could follow them. After the high frequency section, the melody was a short repeating fragment that moved from key to key against an evolving backdrop.
The Owl – Starting with a plaintive howl, and quickly moving to a melody that does feel like a sort of bird call, answered largely by the drums in what ends up mostly as a duet, and a very effective one. Everyone else joins in, but all in service of the main theme.
The Wire – If you were wondering why Lacy employed three bowed instruments in a sextet, this song lets you know from the outset. Lacy states the theme which incorporates chromatic elements over the non-harmonic noted of the strings, percussive piano stabs, and color from the percussion. It is unsettling and eerie all at once, yet I found myself loving the amazing interplay between the string instruments and the piano and percussion.
Cloudy – The title ‘Cloudy’ implies potential storms, and that is exactly the feel of the song. Slow, brooding and dark throughout, the bowed basses suggest winds and currents as the cymbals bring an ominous sense of portent as Lacy states the simple but long melody. It is stunningly gorgeous and haunting all at once, and one of the most effective songs I have ever heard portraying stormy weather.
Deadline – I have always loved songs that maintained a melody while altering the lower register like the classic Nefertiti by Miles Davis. Here we get a simple melody by lacy against a pulsing rhythm. Then it speeds up a bit, and the bowed and pizzicato basses add to the character of the background. And then it speeds up more … and more … and more. You can really feel that there is a set of tasks at hand, become more frantic and involved as the ‘deadline’ approaches! Suddenly we break into an all-bowed section that maintains the tense feeling while bringing in open improvisation. Then Lacy returns to restate the theme and improvise in a frenetic close.
Choice Track (and why): “Deadline” – this incorporates everything I love about the album: great melody, amazing interplay, tremendous use of all members of the sextet in composed and improvised elements, strong compositions, and Steve Lacy playing some of his best and strongest of his career.
You Might Love This If: well … you probably won’t. Unlike the recently reviewed Calligraphy, this was NOT something my family enjoyed. It is WAY out there, and never shies away from dissonance and high frequency trills that will likely offend most ears. But if you are a fan of Steve Lacy and his adventurous spirit, definitely track this one down – you will be well rewarded!
Where to Buy: Discogs has some used listings, but generally it is out of print. Heck, the copy I have is only the album in a sleeve at this point (water damage destroyed the cover) and I had a hard time finding the image I used!
Here is a YouTube video featuring ‘The Wire':