Sunday, May 10, 2020

Steve Lacy: Remains

Solo jazz saxophone On Facebook plenty of people have been posting the cover art of albums that have influenced them. Someone mentioned that the first time they heard St Germain’s Tourist was in a cafe (no surprises there.....quintessential cafe muzak of the early 2000s!). And that had me thinking.....

The best album I’ve heard playing in cafe (so far) was Steve Lacy’s Remains. I was wrapping up and about to leave, but stayed just to listen to the entire thing and purchased the album shortly after. And it remains (sorry) a favourite of mine. The cafe was Atomix. The staff were nice and the vibe was chilled out. Many blog posts were written there (and maybe some school work and job applications too), all accompanied by the consumption of tea, muffins, soup and egg sandwiches. It closed last year. It was bit of a haul to get there – about an hour walk - the added bonus was you passed Dusty Groove along the way. Well worth the walk (the bus took about the same amount of time... or longer).

For those interested, Remains is a solo album from 1991 and features one of my favourite Steve Lacy works – the Tao Cycle. The suite is a setting of selections from Witter Bynner’s 1944 translation of the Tao Te Ching – The Way of Life according to Lao Tzu.

Lacy started writing it in the late 1960s (and started recording it in the early 70s). He has recorded the entire suite a few times (with and without vocals) and would often record/perform individual movements. I think the version on Remains was the last time he recorded the song cycle in full (I need to double check that though).

Witter Bynner 
Each of the six movements sets a particular ‘chapter’ of the Tao:

“Existence” = Chapter 4
“The Way” = Chapter 47
“Bone” = Chapter 33
“Name” = Chapter 1
“The Breath” = Chapter 6
“Life on its Way” = Chapter 40

And as highly as I rate Remains, I’m not sure I’d say it’s the place to start with the Tao Cycle. If you are interested in hearing the vocal version, check out his 1979 quintet recording, The Way (on HatHut records).

I’ve been thinking about putting together a radio programme featuring various recordings from the song cycle over the years. It's very much still in the early stages of planning, but I think it could be an interesting programme.

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