The performance of Eva-Maria's Together on the Way last year was truly one of the most astonishing things I've seen (I wrote about it on this blog): these works really live and breathe in live performance, and if you can, I'd encourage you to try to make one or other or both of these performances.
Announcing three new titles from Materials: Faux Ice by James Goodwin, Short Leash Kept On by Candace Hill, and Kruk Book: An Anthology of Frances Kruk. All three can be purchased from the Materials website: http://material-s.blogspot.com/
A long-awaited reprint of Askia Touré’s Songhai is also available for pre-order and will be printed in early 2023.
Also this month, Lisa Jeschke and I will be hosting a reading/discussion with Materials/Materialien at Halle für Kunst Lüneburg, Germany, on Sunday 28th, with readings by Laurel Uziell, James Goodwin (launching his new Materials book, Faux Ice), and Lütfiye Güzel, followed by a discussion about the first ten years of the press with Lisa and myself. A book table will also remain in place for the duration of the Halle's group exhibition, focused on the various stages of production of an artwork. Thanks to Elisa R. Linn and Ann-Kathrin Eickhoff for the invite.
News of four new books from Materials shortly to follow....
Towards the end of his solo on ‘Hootnan’, the final track on the album Action! Action! Action!, Jackie McLean unleashes an extreme upper-register cry at the climactic point of an otherwise conventionally swinging phrase. Rhythmically, it fits perfectly; in terms of harmony, it’s a transposition--albeit an extreme one--of the note that he might logically be expected to play next. Yet that sound seems to come out of nowhere, its timbre entirely startling, a miniature explosion that dies down almost as soon as it appears only to to explode once more as McLean unleashes further altissimo notes, each held longer than the last, before winding down the solo into some elegantly curlicuing bop licks that signal in the next soloist, trumpeter Charles Tolliver. No one one breaks a sweat. Blink and you could miss it; or explain it away as an aberration, an eccentricity, a tic. This was, after all, but one of many such moments in McLean’s solos once he began playing “out”--some variant of this type of cry occurs on virtually every check of Let Freedom Ring, for example (check the acerbic ‘Melody for Melonae’ and the devastating version of Bud Powell’s ‘I’ll Keep Loving You’ for examples). It’s a relatively simple musical manoeuvre--albeit one requiring technical chops. But it’s much harder to place in terms of its ‘meaning’. McLean’s altissimo cry--some writers call it a “squeal”--is not so much the explosion of emotion, not the idea of spontaneous overflow that characterises the idea of the cry or “scream” in the contemporaneous free jazz with which it shared space in New York--Albert Ayler, Frank Wright, Coltrane (Action! Action! Action! was recorded the year before, though not released until two years after, Coltrane’s Ascension). Neither was it the celebratory cry of the barwalking R&B “screamers” and “honkers” from whom the New Black Musicians of the sixties inherited their own cries, the line that links Coltrane to his former employer, Earl Bostic, “up there in orbit”: multiphonics, altissimo tones, turned from musical effects into the basis of a new vocabulary. McLean’s is, rather, an analytical cry, one which seems to offer a vantage point the music from which to observe it, a kind of shattering of a musical fourth wall. The McLean cry radically extends the principal of transposition, of the brief foray into another register, moving so far beyond the conventionally-charted octaves as to seem beyond transposition: a sudden entry from above, an alien sound, hard and metallic and material, bright and implacable, sour and sharp and firm. “Ecstasy”, ex-stasis, means to stand outside oneself, but to stand outside oneself, as McLean does here, need not be ecstatic: looking in on the music while being in it, stepping back while still soloing “out front”, examining the matter at hand from all sides, aslant or straight on.
In this, McLean’s use of the “cry” has something in common with Sonny Rollins’ use of the altissimo register on another horn--the tenor--during the same period. Rollins uses the technique to perhaps its most startling effect in his superlative duet with Coleman Hawkins on ‘Lover Man’ from Sonny Meets Hawk, recorded shortly after the release of McLean’s Let Freedom Ring, or a few years later, in the eerie conclusion to the title track of East Broadway Run Down. Over a firm rhythmic base, and in tandem with other musicians playing in generally conventional register and key, in Rollin’s hands, this studied, practiced, concentrated, focused sound is too precise to be called ungainly, but could never be called conventionally elegant. It provides punctuation, atmosphere, a sharpening or blurring of edges like a smear in the middle of a precisely delineated painting, or a sharp line in the midst of a field of abstract colour. It clarifies and confuses at the same time. As with McLean, this is not a sound that signifies an excess, an emotional “hotness”, but something else altogether--something intellectual, cerebral, the sound of the working of thought, and that in turn encourages a self-conscious reflection on musical form.
Rollins’ legendary sabbatical from the cut-and-thrust business world of the jazz scene, his period of hermetic practice on the Williamsburg Bridge from 1959 to 1961, saw him playing alone, for fifteen to sixteen hours a day, developing his breathing through yoga, working through every possible sound, legitimate or illegitimate, he could wring from the tenor saxophone. In a 2007 interview, he remarked:
[I’m] interested in the technique of playing in different registers. I’ve spent a long time working on getting a full sound and the proper accuracy on the notes you find above the so-called “normal” range of the instrument. I’ve been experimenting with it, really, since the 1950’s. I’ve got books on such things. What interests me is the accuracy and the security of getting each note right and full every time [...] The whole problem was in getting to feel secure about creating the notes as I wanted; in assimilating them entirely into my “normal” technique. I don’t want to have an artificial division between registers - it should be seamless in my playing. Only then can I incorporate it into my natural improvisational practises. I can do it privately, when I practise, but it is only recently that I’ve felt that I’ve reached the proper level of note production whereby I could play it on stage. I’m building up to it. I may try it soon.
Rollins had, of course, been incorporating such notes in his playing from after his sabbatical--if not before--but his comments suggest an important way in which what he learned in the bridge, while providing the basis for everything he did since, could never be entirely assimilated. The note that is played in private, in practise, but not on stage cannot be given away easily: it is self-possession, the self’s possession, that which might, at times, be given away as sonic gift, air from another planet briefly wafting through. But care must be taken. Recall the ‘Afro-Horn’ of Henry Dumas’ short story ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken?’: an instrument that, in unveiling the “the freedom of freedom”, produces vibrations that cause the hearts of white audience members to give out. “I’m building up to it. I may try it soon.” Another story has Rollins backstage practicing the highest possible of registers, sounds almost too high for the human ear to hear, before going on stage and blowing the lowest possible note.
What secret is being held here? Rollins’ return from the bridge and to public performance serves as an almost too-perfect allegory of between the public and the private dimensions of jazz: a triumphant public display by which the music is returned to circulation. Yet recall that this return was not only to the atmosphere of nourishing sociality in which the music could be created, but to its exploitation in the environment of uncertain labour conditions, police clampdowns and organised crime which, as Gerald Horne notes in his recent book Jazz and Justice, dogged jazz throughout its history. Rollins had conquered earlier addiction problems in Chicago a few years earlier; McLean likewise suffered from addiction problems early on in his career, an experience he drew on playing one of the junkies in Jack Gelber’s play The Connection (1959-61), and in turn worked in community programmes such as the HAR-YOU initiative in Harlem. As A.B. Spellman notes in his profile of McLean for the classic Four Lives in the Bebop Business, heroin had been flooded into musicians’ communities by the Mafia as bebop was beginning and the young McLean was beginning as a musician.
I have been told by several men who used heroin during the Forties that, looking back on their own experiences, there was a conscious attempt (most say by the Mafia) to create a market. [...] There was heroin in the jazz set before it was on the street. In [the jazz] set, which Jackie admired so much, heroin was one of the greatest symbols of hipness. It was in this era that the idea of hip developed, and Jackie is one of the last of the original hip musicians. They created a language, a dress, a music, and a high which were closed unto themselves and allowed them to one-up the rest of the world. The bebop era was the first time that the black ego was expressed in America with self-assurance, and heroin, because its effect blocks out all doubt, is a drug that facilitates the self-assurance. There was heroin all around the hip teen-age set that Jackie ran with, and many of the idols whose music, speech, dress, whose every mannerism they were endeavoring to copy, were heroin addicts.
Interviewed for Spellman’s book, McLean suggests that heroin use provided a kind of internalised defense against the backdrop of the broader structural inequalities of which its use was symptom, rather than, as was stereotypically portrayed, cause. “McLean”, writes Spellman, “does not consider having to get his pennies together to meet the connection any more distasteful or self-destructive than choosing to live with dishonest record companies disrespectful nightclub owners, or a disinterested public that guaranteed only long periods of unemployment.” Users were, however, subject to what effectively amounted to a widespread barring of the labour force from its own market, enforced by the State. McLean lost his cabaret card in 1957 and was unable to regularly perform in New York clubs for the next decade. In Spellman’s words, “the law requiring cabaret cards issued by the police department for work in nightclubs selling liquor [wa]s a totally antiquated one which by now applie[d] almost exclusively to jazz musicians in a most discriminatory way”. McLean was instead forced to turn to the recording studio, recording numerous sessions for labels such as Blue Note: studio replacing club as space for experimentation or, more often, simply making ends meet. Ironically enough, it was his turn as a junkie in The Connection that guaranteed him a period of employment, travelling internationally with the play. McLean’s presence, both as a person with addiction issues, and as a performing musician, was acceptable when framed within the lens of a white playwright’s art; unacceptable when he tried to make his way in the regular labour market in which he was forced to frame his own art.
But for Rollins, in his time on the bridge after kicking his habit in 1958, and for McLean after he’d kicked the habit in 1964, there was another way, one which took the attitude found in the closed, self-assured ego facilitated in the bebop ear by heroin--Spellman’s “a language, a dress, a music, and a high which were closed unto themselves and allowed them to one-up the rest of the world”--and turned it toward another model of inward strength. The stakes of survival--material, literal, physical, spiritual--all of it--were high. What Sonny Rollins learned on the bridge was not just technique, but a certain privacy, a secrecy, the reliance on inner resources, akin to the register of hermetic knowledge--figured as a kind of combination of street smarts, spiritual discipline, and aesthetic focus--that McLean’s bandmate Grachan Moncur talked about in relation to his own survival during this period, and which he termed “nomadic” and “gnostic”. Such knowledge suggested an alternative to the reliance of the “hip” on the drug high; it might also be known by its more familiar name as the cool, in the politicized way Amiri Baraka talks about that term. “Cool [...] before Lee Konitz and Chet Baker absorbed it” was, for Baraka, a knowing but defiant silence during a time of political reaction, the flipside to the “hot” he and his fellow Newarkers had absorbed from the R&B “screamers”, but a part of the same impulse of rooted defiance.
And so we might understand the altissimo register that we hear in Rollins as, in part, the sound of that secret knowledge on the bridge: a little sampling of it, not to be used too often, because it can’t be integrated into the public traction of the music--tones that won’t easily, in Rollins’ words, “assimilate [...] into my ‘normal’ technique.” When Rollins plays those notes, the joins show: new layers are created, new levels, ghosts or alien sounds. That’s one side of it, at least. Hearing the Sonny Meets Hawk version of ‘Lover Man’ for the first time, one could parse his playing alongside Coleman Hawkins as disruptive, aiming to shock. But really, it’s about history: Hawkins himself had experimented early on with the altissimo register in pieces like ‘Queer Notions’ or in his famed ‘Body and Soul’ solo--in the process essentially inventing bebop avant la lettre. In taking that technique somewhere else, Rollins was also showing it back to the older musician, returning a gift: here’s what you’ve given me, here’s where I’m taking it. In other words, Rollins’ altissimo is the sound of the social, of connections being passed on, as much as it’s the sound of publicly-displayed secret knowledge. And these are the twinned, doubled, dialectical aspects of the avant-garde of the fifties and sixties: the hot and the cool; the passing on of knowledge, and its transformation into something else that sometimes moves so far beyond its initial source of inspiration as to seem almost unrecognisable to it.
Steve Lacy, ‘Existence’ (Remains, 1991)
McLean on alto (his first instrument having been soprano); Rollins on tenor (his first instrument having been alto); a third player to add to the purveyors of analytical cries is soprano player Steve Lacy, who would sometimes rehearse with Rollins on the bridge, and who, thanks to the already-higher range of his instrument, would over time develop an extreme upper range on soprano, staying up there, sometimes at whistle pitch, with resolute, vibrato-less clarity (check the extraordinary opening to the quintet version of his piece ‘Esteem’ from a 1975 Paris live date, or on The Wire from the same year). Lacy called the extreme upper register “going to the moon”. “When you go to the moon like that, it hurts, and you can’t do it often and it’s got to be controllable”. These questions of assimilation (Rollins) and control (Lacy) are practical ones--questions of technique, of physical capacity, of not damaging lip or teeth or lungs. In a 1961 article that Lacy wrote for Metronome magazine on the potential of his instrument, he observed that “certain portions of the soprano’s range are intrinsically out of tune with the rest of the horn. All instruments have ‘bad’ notes but the soprano has whole segments of such notes.” The solution found in previous decades by Sidney Bechet--the only real precedent for the instrument’s use in jazz--had been to deploy wide vibrato. This approach was not one, however, for Lacy. “If one wants the power of, say, a Bechet without the vibrato”, he noted, “one must humor each note, bending it to the desired pitch. This requires long and assiduous practice with much frustration, or else a high natural sensitivity, coupled with extreme lip flexibility.” The ‘cry’, the extreme high note, is a technical problem, a battle as well as a collaboration with the instrument, a bending of its natural inclinations against itself: something that is artificial, the result of work and practice, far from the myth of spontaneous overflow.
Music is work, insisted musicians, like McLean, like Lacy, like Rollins, for whom too often remuneration was in short supply, who had to work within damaging and degrading labour conditions is work. It is, of course, play too, but play in a serious sense: play as adaptation, improvisational, survival. Recall Thelonious Monk’s piece ‘Work’, recorded on an album with Rollins in 1956, and by Lacy on his own debut album Soprano Sax two years later, a version marked by what reviewer Bob Rusch calls “a controlled tension [...] like everybody’s trying to play, carefully, to a common goal. It’s almost as if someone were present to make sure everybody stayed within obvious perimeters.” Lacy was, it’s true, still at a germinal stage of his playing, undergoing an apprenticeship with Cecil Taylor, who’d first taken him to see Monk, several years before his own six-month stint in Monk’s band. Be that as it may, there’s a quality to both Lacy’s smoother and Monk’s more jagged renderings that suggests something of the title’s doubled sense: laconic, gritted-teeth, a relaxed nervous tension, that which turns work to play, to playing, as serious as your life.
Lacy didn’t know addiction as McLean and Rollins had done, lived in conditions of privation, at one point in New York, sleeping in a tent inside an apartment he couldn’t afford to heat, at another, having decided to depart the States in search of musical opportunity, getting stuck in Argentina in the aftermath of the right-wing coup of 1966, over the next nine months exploring free improvisation and recording the extraordinary The Forest and the Zoo with Enrico Rava, Johnny Dyani, and Louis Moholo-Moholo and discovering what he later called “the hermetic free”. “I made that [record] because I thought the music was too important to lose”, Lacy remarked. “It was what we’d call the ‘hermetic free’. The point of no return. Where the music had the maximum calories in it. There was nothing to say, no words necessary. Just: ‘play’. After that, the music went elsewhere.” In the seventies, Lacy moved away from purely free improvisation, finding the balance of inside and outside, composition and improvisation that would characterise the rest of his mature output: the aim to find a music that, as he said, would “try to get it to the bone”, a principle exemplified by Lacy’s piece of the same name, its one-word title typical of the dry brevity that characterised his aesthetic: “snips”, “stabs”, “the crust”, “the woe”, “the wire”.
Lacy’s playing in such contexts, particularly the solo dates which he made a speciality, would often deploy altissimo as the high point of a working through of scalar figures, a logical and relentless reach up to a point necessitated by its context: an implacable and relentless push, necessitated by the contours of compositional frameworks in which figures would be repeated--sometimes obsessively--put through the permutations of transposition, as if pushing the identity of a musical phrase as far as it could go before it transforms into something else. Take, for instance, the closing portion of the 1991 version of his piece ‘Existence’, a video for which is embedded above: the first movement of his 1970’s solo suite Tao, “composed for six elements of Lao Tzu’s greater principle”. Lacy recorded the piece on on several occasions: in Tokyo and Como in 1975, released as Solo at Mandara and Axieme on ALM and on Red Records respectively, in Montreal in 1979, released as Hooky by British free improvisation label Emanem, and on the 1991 album Remains, released on Hat ART. The titles to the individual movements--‘Existence’, ‘The Way’, ‘Bone’, ‘Name’, ‘The Breath’, and ‘Life on Its Way’--suggest an approach in which the spiritual is figured through the relentless material, through the negotiations of body and instrument. This is not a music of representation, though Lacy was always drawn to using words, and in time had become perhaps the finest exponent of a particular brand of art song he made his own, but of resolute and relentless presence, an existential music, devoid of sentiment, which left the listener to make up their own conclusions. Around four minutes into ‘Existence’, after a pause of a good few seconds, Lacy begins a figure that progressively cycles higher and higher, traversing the gamut from a throaty low note to a high-wire screech: the cry, taken higher and higher each time before things are taken back down and the piece ends at a point at once definitive and entirely open-ended: a multiphonic, two notes at once, two in one, dialectical clarity and potential. Lacy has already played some upper register notes in the opening section of the piece, running up and down the scale to some high, exposed places, but the high notes towards the end of the piece are something else. Perhaps “cry” is the wrong word, suggesting as it does an involuntary spontaneity or an apostrophic expressivity. These notes mark intensity, but not excitement: a tight, chill grip, a condensation, a focusing of attention, what Lacy in another piece termed “the peak”.
These “peaks” occur at the end of the 1991 recording of ‘Existence’, serving a function akin to that of the musical climax. But, as Lacy’s former student Jorrit Dijkstra reveals in an incisive essay on learning this piece with the saxophonist, they also echo its introduction, “where one ‘warms up the saxophone’ or sets the atmosphere of the tune by slowly exploring the pitches of the first scale, much like the rubato ‘alap’ introduction to an Indian raga.” High notes are often something the saxophonist must build up to--think McLean’s cries towards the end of his solo, moments of focused climax which he followed his former bandleader Art Blakey’s lessons about the art and arc of constructing narrative and drama within a concise, hard-hitting statement, or Rollins’ unearthly altissimo during the final portion of ‘Lover Man’. They can, however, also be a jumping off point, straight from the diving board. Consider here the aforementioned opening of Lacy’s ‘Esteem’, a piece dating from around the same period as ‘Existence’, in which a preludial circling through transposed notes, from high to low, wavers and hovers before settling into a melancholic melody which emerges from it in a kind of exhausted release. That transition is suggested particularly well in the duo version of the piece with Mal Waldron on their album Communiqué, a good twenty years after it was first recorded. Waldron’s sombre fatalism fits the atmosphere of the piece perfectly--an outgrowth of a certain trend in the music of the fifties, that David Rosenthal, in his fine study of hard bop, identifies in particular with his and Jackie McLean’s work: “More astringent, less popular musicians, whose work is starker and more tormented [...] The mood of their work [...] tended to be somber. They favored the minor mode, and their playing possessed a sinister—sometimes tragic—air not unlike the atmosphere of, say, Billie Holiday’s ‘You’re My Thrill’. ” Waldron, another survivor of the heroin years, last accompanist of Holidays last accompanist, who, like Rollins and Lacy, found salvation in exile--this time in Europe, where he was able to clean up and to move his playing into a territory closer to that of free playing--plays as if every note is his last, singular and to itself, yet completely focused as part of a musical chain, a process of scalar rising and falling, the stringing out of seemingly infinite patterns, the building of the biggest structures available from the smallest toolkit possible. Like an experiment with holding your breath as long as you can, Waldron’s and Lacy’s approach alike is a stripping back, a going without, that is at the same time an excess, a constant exceeding, “going to the moon”.
As Dijkstra notes, many of the pieces Lacy would perform solo date from the early seventies--that period he identified as the move from the ‘hermetic free’ to what Lacy called the ‘post-free’, that music that cut down to the bone. Lacy comments on the return of elements like the C major scale to his music, the embrace, rather than the abolition, of limits as a paradoxical means toward freedom of a different sort. In the pieces written during this period, can be found a deliberate and definite reliance on patterns and exercises, akin to those found in practice books, a foregrounding of technique, not for its own sake, but as a working-through of process, of the basics of music. Dijkstra comments of Lacy’s composition notebooks, now held by the Library of Congress:
In the first few notebooks we find messy sketches from a very experimental early period (right after he moved from New York to Italy around 1967) where he delved into graphical scores, word combinations, conceptual free improv ideas, anti-Vietnam war protest music, and the first sketches for suites such as the Precipitation Suite and Tao Suite. The pieces in the early ’70s are studies in how one can write music about anything – from the weather to food, materials, animals, expressions, feelings, etc. Cahier n°4 (1973) alone contains “The Wax,” “The Wake,” “The Wage,” “Weal,” “The Wool,” “The Woe,” “The Wow!,” “The Oil,” “Salts,” “Fruits,” “Laps,” “Nags,” “Flaps,” “Ladies,” “Scraps,” “Flops,” “Slabs,” “Worms,” “Lumps,” “Stumps,” “Moms,” “Snorts,” “Slats,” “Stabs,” “Hops,” “Snips,” “Chops,” “Tots,” “Tracks,” and “Revolutionary Suicide.” The vast majority of works from this period are interval patterns grouped into loops, repeated a number of times, followed by a free improvisation. After the mid ’70s his works become mostly texts set to music, and more melodic.
Lacy, as this suggests, would move to art song, to an approach integrating the free forms of the late sixties (the ‘hermetic free’) and early seventies with the exercise-based disciplines of his early seventies pieces (the ‘post-free’)--what he called the ‘poly-free’. But, while one should avoid an over-schematic division of Lacy’s playing into different periods, it’s the moment before that integration that interests me here: that moment of the pare-down, of the scale, the practice book, the composition notebook, of the deliberate establishing of limits. Those looped interval patterns that we hear in ‘Existence’ and ‘Esteem’--loops that push the intervals higher and higher, are the sounds of exercises, of practice: like Rollins on the bridge, the endless work at sound, outside the circulation of music as labour environment, work of a different sort--preparation, practice, a private or even secret readying of “the way”. As his notebooks reveal, Lacy dedicated ‘Existence’ to John Coltrane, dating the piece “Rome 1969”, before revising it in 1975: “Bone”, the piece which gave Lacy’s new ethos its guiding metaphor, was composed in 1970 and dedicated to Lester Young. Lacy explained the dedication to Existence by its resemble to Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’, its scalar working-through at a high tempo--at least in initial versions, and the difficulties this presented for improvisation. Like ‘Giant Steps’, the piece is a rigorously arranged series of harmonic patterns based on large interval leaps. In that sense, it is thoroughly composed, yet, given that these patterns are fundamentally designed as the basis for improvisation, improvisationally demanding: the soloist must both negotiate technically-tricky passages while imparting their solo with the feel of more than a simple exercise. The relative success or failure of the multiple versions of Coltrane’s composition attempted by any number of saxophonists over the years, and the fact that Coltrane himself never played it live following the initial studio recording, suggest some of this difficulty. Teaching ‘Existence’ to Dijkstra, Lacy did not hand over a copy of a score. Instead, he played through eleven different pentatonic scales and recited the words of the relevant poem from the Tao Te Ching: the musician is intended to memorize and improvise on these scales, while reciting the words to the poem in their head. The pentatonic, a famously pan-global scale that turns up in numerous different musical cultures, is Dijkstra notes, “often considered more fundamental or rootsy than other scales.” But Lacy does not aim for something ‘natural’. Once again, this is work.
The melodies in the Tao suite are composed to the (silent) words of the Tao Te Ching. “While playing the melody,” Dijkstra notes, “one should express the words and sing them in one’s head.” These words and the dedication to Coltrane alike are silent, messages for the player--think, perhaps, of the silent words from Hölderlin inscribed in the score to Luigi Nono’s Fragmente-Stille. They are a private, interior discipline, that interacts with, but does not necessarily translate over to, the social network of playing music to an audience. Dijkstra explains: “Lacy dedicated virtually all of his compositions to a specific artist, musician, writer, scientist, or other high-level practitioner), often a picture of the dedicatee, a date, sometimes a place where it was composed, and specific performance instructions. In many cases, these references connect in a way that makes artistic sense but is hard to describe.” Whether in the tight-knit quintet Lacy had with his wife Irene Aebi, pianist Bobby Few, and fellow saxophonist Steve Potts, bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel, and drummer Oliver Johnson, or in his solo recordings, such dedications were a way to emphasize music’s collective nature, even as it most apparently stripped-down, individual, existential, isolated. “Every piece I write”, Lacy observed, “has a reference to somebody as well as the things which have to do with the person.” Like that of Rollins, this is a music of silence and secrets and of public declaration and declamation at once. And, like that of Rollins, it is a music that, however new, sui generis, or unearthly it may sound, is always rooted in a negotiation with tradition, with history, with predecessors: that which has come before.
In exploring the soprano at a time when the instrument had almost entirely disappeared from the jazz front-line, Lacy remarked, he had drawn on the high notes both of Louis Armstrong and of operatic sopranos:
Its register is quite vast, as big as for the right hand of the piano. There are a lot of territories to explore: the moon on high, the earth below. The tonality is very feminine—I’ve studied the voices of women singers a lot. Louis Armstrong also played very high, with a lot of excitement, like in the operas of Puccini.
Queer notions: the upper register, the cry or squeal or scream, is that range of the instrument that at once affirms and blurs gendered signifiers--the stereotype of the phallic high trumpet analysed in Krin Gabbard’s ‘Signifyin(g) the Phallus’, on the one hand, the blurring of the operatic high voice, of castrati and opera queens, that Wayne Koestenbaum sketches in The Queen’s Throat, on the other; sound both utterly material and totally unearthly; those two sides that the new jazz of the fifties and the sixties always channelled, often at the same time. This is about work; it’s about play; it’s about survival; it’s about knowledge. Lacy, as Dijkstra notes, returned to music from the Tao suite while dying of cancer in 2004, new arrangements in jagged handwriting. Music, Lacy believed, exists outside the self. “We only follow it to the end of our life: then it goes on without us.” Ex-stasis, continuance, excess. The music, its cry, knows more than it lets on, and more than the person playing and creating it knows.
Lacy; McLean; Rollins. Three musicians, three instruments, three kinds of cry. Listening to these analytical cries, their similarities and differences, moves us beyond the binaries and dichotomies by which jazz and jazz-adjacent musics are still too often understood. Jackie McLean’s cry, like that of Rollins, like that of Lacy, is delight; is disturbance; is analysis; is that which defies analysis. It speaks and it sings. It knows more than we could ever know.