Derek Bailey and Steve Lacy

Potlatch: P299

Derek Bailey: electric guitar
Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone
Recorded live by Jean-Marc Foussat on June 25th 1983 at Dunois, Paris.

Well, here’s Bailey again in the company of a free jazzer; Derek Bailey who, despite an early background in jazz, was always the Boy Most Likely to do Something Else. His duets with Braxton are widely disliked, and while the session released on Victo as Moments Precieux does indeed have some nice moments, the nay-sayers are basically right, and the thing seems to make precious little sense.

Jon C Morgan is quite right to remind us, in his sleeve notes, that duets don’t have to be done on entirely agreed common ground. If it’s important for musicians to bring their own voices to the table, then it must surely be okay for those voices to be distinctive, even quite disparate. This is certainly a disparate pairing, and it does, in a manner of speaking, work.

Lacy spends all of his time getting hold of a melodic line and refusing to let go of it. He plays like a man obsessed, as if trying to blot out the osund around him using only his horn and his legendarily bottomless imagination. The sound around him is, of course, Bailey himself, and Bailey is never anyone but himself, as an unbending and stubborn a player as British improvised music has ever produced.

Needless to say, Bailey doesn’t give Lacy any of the chords that the reedsman would perhaps like to have under him. Nor does he approximate a jazzy kind of rhythmic approach, seeking to punctuate Lacy’s lines or drop bombs between his notes. Nope, Bailey just goes ahead and plays, almost as if he were playing a solo gig and had accidentally left open a communicating door. His choices of what to play where can sound perverse, although they also seem to make sense, at least within the world of this CD, just as Mock Turtle Soup makes sense in the looking-glass world.

Outcome is an alternative way of doing duet albums. It throws all of the rules out of the window or, to be more accurate, it looks at them in the mirror and acts on what it reads there. And of course, in the background, one knows perfectly well that Lacy and Bailey are listening hard and doing what they do for reasons which may well lie beyond this listener’s competence to assess. Whyever they’re doing it, the results are splendidly strange. Richard Cochrane