The 1970s and 1980s were decades in which Steve Lacy's star shone, and these ten duets comprising a cycle of Tao are vintage Lacy, well performed and recorded. Released for the first time in 2006 as part of Ictus Records' 30th Anniversary Collection, the album connects two sessions recorded nearly a decade apart: the last four tracks were recorded live in concert in Udine, Italy, in early 1976, and are consistently first-rate Lacy, with Andrea Centazzo a secondary, complementary force -- a function, no doubt, of his awe of the great American innovator. The first six pieces were recorded eight years later in a studio in Bologna, Italy. In characteristic fashion, the tracks generally follow a structure adopted and followed by the soprano saxophonist: relatively uncomplicated angular heads with an emphasis on subtle, confident, and highly disciplined improvisations that merge simplicity with a sophisticated, intellectual approach that might mistakenly be confused with passive disinterest. With time, the master saxophonist's performances became more polished and somewhat less consistently exciting, though quality was rarely if ever compromised, and commercial considerations were irrelevant. The last four, earlier recorded tracks -- though raw -- are somewhat less interesting than the first six, slightly more polished ones that were recorded later. Curiously, Centazzo seems less sure of himself on the later pieces and more willing to take risks on the earlier ones. Admittedly in awe of the saxophonist's playing, Centazzo writes in the liner notes that his first meeting with Lacy was "one of [the] most important musical meetings in my life," as Lacy was "one of the musicians I most admire." As with many Lacy albums, the tracks often represent gentle permutations of themes or series of notes, resulting in a slow evolution. One of the best pieces is "Tao 9," not only because of its clever use of bird calls, but also because it is so upbeat, life-affirming in its innocence, and off-kilter -- looser and more radical than much of Lacy's later work. The earlier recorded "Tao 10" is similarly expansive, with Centazzo, overcoming his sense of awe, warming more and more to the task at hand.
AllMusic Review by Steve Loewy