Saxophonist/composer Jean Derome’s work ranges from explorations of modernist masters like Monk and Mingus to his own conceptual epics like Résistances, his orchestral homage to the North American electrical grid. Here he explores the work of Steve Lacy (1934-2004), a key influence on Derome who advocated strongly for Thelonious Monk’s compositions and developed the foundations of free jazz with Cecil Taylor. Lacy also created a large body of art songs unique in modern jazz. Derome explores the range of them here, including settings of works from ancient China to the Beat Generation.
Derome brings his regular trio partners to the project, bassist Normand Guilbeault and drummer Pierre Tanguay, masters of propulsive and varied grooves. They’re joined by pianist Alexandre Grogg and the singer Karen Young, whose eclectic background matches the varied demands of Lacy’s music. The text settings include surprising authors like Lao Tzu, Thomas Gainsborough and Herman Melville; the latter’s Art initiates the program with a minimalist setting that suggests Japanese court music.
While those lyricists are as famous as they are unlikely, several of the highlights here come from Lacy’s association with the relatively little-known Canadian expatriate Brion Gysin, a literary collaborator with William S. Burroughs. Gysin’s playful, vibrant, hipster verses fall naturally on modern jazz inflections: when Derome joins his voice with Young’s on Blue Baboon, the group creates a witty update on the scat vocal group of the 1950s who rarely found lyrics this germane.