The Luton based 33JAZZ label, run by former People Band member Paul Jolly, tends to steer a smooth mainstream course. Occasionally it casts up something less predictable and with LONDON EAR it delivers a real coup; this was inimitable soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy's last recorded performance. The context is a polished, large ensemble session under the direction of Hans Koller, who also plays Fender Rhodes electric piano. Koller is an igenious, well equipped and tasteful arranger, whose most obvious debt is to Mike Gibbs. Indeed, with perhaps a wry touch of modesty, Koller makes Gibbs dedicatee of his surprising and persuasive version of the jazz standard "Blame it on my Youth". Ultimately, though, Koller is his own man, putting afreshly personal stamp even on Miles Davis's "Filles de Kilimanjaro", which the group runs through twice.
The presence of Lacy speaks volumes, of course, and he takes a major role, sounding comfortably at home and on great form despite the health problems that soon after led to his death. Probing the Davis theme, spinning out from the core of Warne Marsh's "Marshmallow", and elaborating his won composition, "Blinks", he sounds as always both spontaneous and thoroughly considered, intensely methodical and by the same means exhilarating. Koller's settings and embellishments correspond beautifully to the contours of Lacy's sinuous improvisational logic, to his idiosyncratic phrasing and singular tone. A real accomplishment, that, which whets the appetite for his latest project with Evan Parker guesting.
Koller's own compositions are weighty enough for the occasion, and the group - including guitarist Phil Robson, saxophonist Mike Williams and trumpeters Henry Lowther and Claus Stoetter - are fully charged as they track the convolutions and gloss the margins. Jolly tells me that after the recording session, drummer Gene Calderazzo approached Lacy and said, "That was really great playing, it was real fun". After a long pause, Lacy smiled, "Yeah man, it's always worth trying." In Lacy's case, it always was. LONDON EAR should be heard for his uplifting contribution, but no less for what Koller has achieved. edit delete