Irene Aebi / Steve Lacy

The Joan Miró Foundation Concert

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Recorded at 1999's Joan Miró Foundation benefit, this duet between soprano saxophone legend Steve Lacy and singer Irene Abei is exactly what it seems: a spare set of duets assembled for this particular concert. Lacy and Abei assembled poems from numerous poets of the 19th and 20th centuries and set about creating a context whereby music and word would be showcased together as interrelated entities. That they could exist apart was not a question worth entertaining, given the placement of a third party -- the poet -- between the singer and the song as played by an interlocutor (Lacy). The set begins innocently enough, with Lacy running through a short set of Monk tunes -- "Shuffle Boil," "Eronel," "Evidence," "Reflections," "Misterioso," and "Work." As is customary, Lacy imbues the originals with his own sense of advanced harmonic displacement and sly detachment. His virtuosity reveals itself only in the breaks from the tunes' regular intervals as he slips from one key to the next, altering the cadence of solo responses and rearranging the tonic roots of whatever composition he is playing. This short set is a stunner. Lacy then speaks a brief introduction and introduces Abei, who joins him in setting the work of Kurt Schwitters, Phillipe Soupault, Francis Picabia, and Robert Creeley to music. And this is where the set falls apart. Abei is an art singer to be sure. Her melodic faculty is very developed and her timing is impeccable. So what's wrong? Her voice, that's what. Its shrill whine rasps out in the top register while rolling over key syllables, making her singing of these poems not only irritating for their frequency, but frustrating in their inexactitude as well. It's too bad, too, because a project like this did hold such promise. If only Abei would have applied more control to her instrument, this might have been a transcendent experience rather than an exasperating one.

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