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Strange Soul Music
Jan P. Dennis | Monument, CO USA | 02/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've never understood Steve Lacy's infatuation with Irène Abei's vocals. Until now. Of all things, I think he's after soul music. Admittedly, of a very strange kind. But nevertheless, soul music. A Soul Music that will resonate with all those who find themselves cut adrift from Tradition. Soul Music for the children of Rousseau. The clincher is the title cut, "Anthem," a piece commissioned by the French Government's Ministry of Culture in honor of the 200th Anniversary of the French Revolution. This remarkable music, sounding almost exactly like the French National Anthem meets Charles Ives, the words a poem ("Twilight of Liberty") by Osip Mandelstam penned in 1918 immediately following the Russian Revolution, might be dubbed "Modernist Ironic Soul Music." It's Modernist because its methodology is juxtaposition. Ironic, because its attitude toward its materials is hardly straightforward. Instead, employing a very nuanced commentary on the Russian Revolution right around the time the Berlin Wall is coming down as a celebration of the French Revolution makes for multiple layers of irony. Soul Music, because it's so danged Franco-Americanly earnest. And it strikes me that Irène Abei is the perfect singer to perform this song that is more than a mere song: an Anthem, a tribute, a celebration--if a very nuanced and conflicted one.But isn't that exactly where one finds oneself if one is a Modernist, as Steve Lacy most certainly and ardently is? One can scarcely celebrate the French Revolution straightforwardly, what with its end in chaos and random bloodshed, without nuance and confliction, let alone rejoice in its awkward, painful, and extremely bloody offspring, the Russian Revolution and the subsequent three-quarters of a century of Soviet terror. Yet, if one is a thoroughgoing Modernist, what else is there to celebrate? Certainly, there's no going back, either to the ancien régime, or to the Czarist Monarchy, or, most certainly not, to the Catholic Church. All the old certainties are dead, the old ways of living and being dissolved by the depredations of not only the French and Russian Revolutions, but also the Scientific, Industrial, Philosophic, Sexual, and Cultural Revolutions. God is dead. The new gods are Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida. We confront the void, admit that the hope of supernatural help is a chimera. But wait. Some HAVE found their way back: Chesterton, Lonergan, Solzhenitsyn, Marion, Girard, Pärt, Tavener, Gorecki, and N. T. Wright. But not everyone can.So let us delight in Steve Lacy's strange Soul Music. Let us praise him for the courage of his convictions. Let us realize that, if he can't find his way back, at least he can celebrate something like the French Revolution with a gimlet eye, unclouded by rank Romanticism, guided by probity. So five stars for what this is: strange Soul Music at the twilight of the old century and dawn of the new. I acknowledge greatness, even when I can't wholeheartedly track with it aesthetically, morally, or intellectually. And Steve Lacy is a great artist. And this is a great record."