Three In Paris
The past few years have found saxophonist/composer Jeremy Udden stepping away from his more fleshed out ensemble projects to focus on music with a more stripped down, direct approach. This led him to working up solo concerts, which, in turn led him back to one of his main influences, the great saxophonist and musical conceptualist
The past few years have found saxophonist/composer Jeremy Udden stepping away from his more fleshed out ensemble projects to focus on music with a more stripped down, direct approach. This led him to working up solo concerts, which, in turn led him back to one of his main influences, the great saxophonist and musical conceptualist Steve Lacy.
The loose and instinctive playing of Lacy has long been a draw for Udden. Udden even studied with the master improviser when Lacy was teaching at the New England Conservatory. After Lacy passed in 2004, Udden performed at a memorial concert that was held in New York City, along with a number of Lacy’s friends and collaborators, including the drummer John Betsch.
Over the past few years, Udden also began a collaboration with Paris based bassist Nicolas Moreaux, with whom he recorded Belleville Project, which was released in 2015. The two continued to interact and consider new projects. As it turns out, the American born Betsch called Paris home for decades and Moreaux had been performing with him on occasion. The idea of incorporating Betsch into a trio project began to coalesce and would eventually culminate in their new recording, Three In Paris.
Betsch has long been a favorite in the world of avant-garde jazz, being the engine behind ensembles led by musicians as diverse as Abdullah Ibrahim, Benny Golson, Dewey Redman, Archie Shepp, Mal Waldron and Henry Threadgill. The drummer had a two-decade affiliation with Lacy, being featured on many of Lacy’s fascinating albums. This led to a deep understanding of the saxophonist’s unique approach to improvisation.
After reconnecting with Udden, Betsch was thrilled to take part in the new project. When Udden flew to Paris with his wife and young daughter in August 2018, he brought thirty pieces to rehearse, including originals and compositions by Steve Lacy. Though aware of the potential emotional and artistic weight of performing material by Lacy with Betsch, Udden’s apprehension proved to be unfounded as Betsch was humble and incredibly supportive. Their single rehearsal was spent finding which tunes worked best and which direction they should take them.
The recording begins with an open take on Don Cherry’s tribute to the Jamaican saxophonist, Roland Alphonso. Regularly played in sessions when Udden was younger, “Roland Alphonso” keeps an offbeat ska rhythm while Betsch sculpts the performance under Udden’s sax. The obscure Moross and Latouche standard “Lazy Afternoon” is a hypnotic, mainly modal piece allowing the players to take their time, filling the space or leaving it open. Udden plays Lacy’s lyrical “Who Needs It?” in a duet with Betsch, the pretty tune leading to a free improvisation.
Udden’s “Hope” has a buoyant melody played breezily over a tempo free rubato, while Ellington’s “Azure” (a regular in the book of Lacy and Mal Waldron) is a bright and groovingly Sun Ra-esque, a throwback to the kinds of pieces Udden played while in the Either/Orchestra. Lacy’s dirge-like “Prayer” channels its composer as the piece seems to play itself, the sax and bass fitting together beautifully while Betsch shapes the piece to perfection.
Udden and Betsch are in and out of time on Lacy’s playful “The Crust,” while Lacy’s “Bone” is wildly spontaneous, the swing even eliciting Betsch’s impromptu vocals at the end. The wistful “Folk Song 2” is one of Udden’s simple, singable songs that seems to provide space to let the moment sit. The program concludes with the freely improvised “One for Us,” a palette cleanser that showcases the wonderful interplay the group was able to develop over two days of playing.
The influence of Steve Lacy’s monumental works has been instrumental in Jeremy Udden’s musical development. It was a fantastic coincidence that as he began to explore a more unadorned method of music making that Udden was able to reconnect with Lacy alum John Betsch through Nicolas Moreaux, which led to the creation of their unassuming yet poignant recording, Three In Paris.