On Anthem, Steve Lacy enhances his core sextet with trombone, percussion, and extra vocals, producing a wider array of sonic textures than heard on previous releases. And this comes as a bonus on top of a very strong set of Lacy compositions, the centerpiece of which is a commissioned work for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution called "Prelude and Anthem." This jauntily angular theme unfolds into a free-form, unison improvisation, with reeds, trombone, percussion, and piano continuously overlapping in vociferous interplay (the cacophonous collaboration at once debunking ceremony and evoking the revolution's communal spirit). Sextet regular Irene Aibei contributes her earnestly deep-throated vocals here, while also adding to the melancholic cut "The Mantle" and the enigmatic, Mingus-inspired ballad "Prayer" (dedicated to onetime Thelonious Monk sideman, the late tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse). In a livelier mode, there's the set opener, "Number One," a James Brown homage that dresses up the funk in a New Orleans shuffle-blues groove, with some Caribbean beats added for good measure. Guest percussionist Sam Kelly adds tasty accents throughout the cut, while trombonist Glen Ferris evokes the great Ellington bone players ("Tricky" Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown) with an array of growls and swoops. Mirroring this joyous beginning, the ensemble closes the album with the art-house mambo swinger "The Rent," featuring more unison playing from the group. Special mention must also be made of bassist Jean Jacques Avenel's mellifluous, West African-inspired number "J.J.'s Jam," which features him on the Malinese string instrument the kora. Along with Aibei and Avenel, Lacy band regulars alto saxophonist Steve Potts and pianist Bobby Few make fine contributions throughout the recording. With more composition and performance highlights than most jazz albums ever muster, Anthem is essential listening for Lacy fans and all other adventurous listeners out there.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook