Vinyl Spotlight: Reflections: Steve Lacy Plays Thelonious Monk (New Jazz 8206)

March 28, 2017 /
  • Original Jazz Classics reissue circa 1983 (OJC-063; mono)
  • “GH” etched in dead wax (side 2 only)

Personnel:

  • Steve Lacy, soprano saxophone
  • Mal Waldron, piano
  • Buell Neidlinger, bass
  • Elvin Jones, drums

Recorded October 17, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey
Originally released in 1959

My discovery of this album came as a pleasant surprise. A record-dealing friend had recently pulled a mammoth score including a dozen or so cardboard boxes packed with jazz reissues. Sifting through the boxes, the bold lime green of this cover caught my eye as most modern, mid-century cover designs do. I knew nothing about Steve Lacy, and even though I had seen the album cover once or twice online, for the first time I noticed the words “plays Thelonious Monk” (unbeknownst to me at the time, “Reflections” is the title of a lesser-known Monk composition). I turned the cover over to glance at the arrangement. It was then that I realized that Steve Lacy was not one to follow trends. An album of Monk compositions played with soprano sax? I had long been a fan of John Coltrane’s work with the then-out-of-fashion instrument so I was intrigued.

On this expedition I had the luxury of being able to preview records as I dug, and when I put this record on I was surprised by how much I liked what I was hearing. I quickly realized that Lacy had chosen more obscure, challenging Monk tunes for the album. Wynton Marsalis did something similar when I saw the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra pay tribute to Monk at Town Hall in New York City in 2016 and I admire the bravery that goes into making this kind of choice.

Not to discredit Lacy’s chops (of which he has plenty), just the combination of Monk’s music being played with soprano sax is a treat in and of itself. Lacy and session pianist Mal Waldron are clearly big fans of Monk’s, each having recorded Monk tunes numerous times throughout their careers. Considering how much I enjoy this album on top of its condition and the price I paid, this has become one of my favorite records in my collection.

  • CliffordAllen

    Missed this post the first time around. It is a beautiful record. I probably have around 90 Lacy LPs and quite a lot of CDs and concert bootlegs. He’s a favorite, and if you’re ever looking to hear more Lacy I’m happy to give recommendations.