Steve Lacy, the celebrated “first soprano saxophonist of modern jazz” whose quest for an appreciative audience gave rise to his emigration to Europe in 1970, opened a three-night stint at Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday night.
Though the sextet features some extraordinary talents in pianist Bobby Few and bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel, there were few inspired moments during the three-tune, hourlong opening set.
But there were plenty of moments of drudgery. Each of the tunes was composed by Lacy and each fit a specific formula that had the rhythm section performing as a conventional jazz trio backing three instrumentalists in an unyielding search for wrong notes. As an ensemble, the group sounded like a traffic jam with a beat.
Unfortunately, the beat rarely swung. “Prospectus,” the opening tune, started off swinging at a good clip, but Irene Aebi’s violin began undermining the tempo as soon as she began her awkward underscoring of Steve Potts’ alto-saxophone.
Never designed to swing was “The Bath,” a dirge-like tune composed of three-note descending riffs. Some pleasant melodic ideas by Potts were diminished when his penchant for playing out of the alto’s natural range resulted in an imitation of a screech owl.
Last on the agenda was “Gay Paree Bop,” a joyless paean to be-bop that recalled the tremendous influence on the form of Arabic folk melodies and Chinese harmony. As if a lack of identity wasn’t enough, the tune featured a vocal by Aebi that was delivered with all the warmth of a drill sergeant at dawn. Relief was the feeling when the song, delivered at breakneck speed, finally ended.
Lacy, whose effectiveness in this setting was greatly lessened, remains one of the foremost proponents of the avant-garde. One senses, though, that pretense has replaced innovation, posturing replacing invention. And from the determined look and scowl on the soprano saxophonist’s face, Lacy should, for his own sake, pursue music that offers some joy.