Solo improvisation has come to represent the highest expression of the improvisor. Perhaps for good reason as it takes a special imagination or careful tactician to keep it interesting for sustained periods. As a practice, it has grown progressively since Eric Dolphy’s great deconstructions of God Bless The Child in the early 60s. While not all of these three saxophonists provide great examples, they all approach the problems of solo improvisation in interesting and varied ways.
Saxophonist Lazro’s work owes much to the Dolphy model, particularly in the way that figures are repeated, elaborated and transformed. This of course has become a standard methodology for the solo improvisor, Evan Parker being the most extreme example. If Lazro’s approach provides no real surprises, it is the rigor and consistency of its application that is out of the ordinary. This attention to craft gives many of the pieces a strong inner logic and satisfying unanimity. Ironically, perhaps, it is when Lazro attempts his own deconstruction of existing material - in this case an Albert Ayler tune - that the music is at its structurally most incoherent. This nod to history is also reflected in his use of the instrument as a sound-making device. While he uses the usual range of extended techniques, Lazro also relishes the standard sounds of his instruments and there are times when for a few minutes the ghosts of earlier eras are audible.
Lacy is an example of a particularly special imagination. His ability to create in the kind of unfettered way that many assume to be the Holy Grail of free improvisation is remarkable but untypical of improvisors as a whole; there are few other improvisors that can deliver this consistent level of surprise and delightful ingenuity. Steeped in the jazz tradition, Lacy makes use of compositional structures to kick-start and then shape his imaginings but one still feels that his improvisations could go anywhere and indeed one expects it of him. Although he makes use of a range of extended techniques, like Coxhill who comes closest to him in approach, his improvisation is deeply tonal and deals with the creation of rhythmically varied melody. The variety of Lacy’s approaches to the solo makes this recording the closest thing you’ll find to a masterclass on the subject.
Hétu’s approach is not dissimilar to that of Lazro but her improvisations stand as haikus to Lazro’s sonnets. Lacy and Lazro constantly remind you that they are playing an instrument with a wealth of tradition and associations while Hétu appears to want to strip away this heritage and leave the listener with a fresh understanding; in some ways the fact that it is a saxophone she is playing is irrelevant. This is further heightened by her use of voice. This is deceptively simple music. While she has an obvious technical sophistication, she uses it to explore tiny fragments of music or sound. The music is almost never developmental and this gives it a static abstract quality. Her transparent minimal approach allows the listener greater intimacy with the musician than the grander statements of the other two. One is held in rapt attention as she coaxes and cajoles sound from her instrument.
Luc Bouquet in ImproJazz #72 (France)