(Steve Lacy in Memoriam)
FOR FREE IMPROVISING JAZZ ENSEMBLE OF VARIABLE SIZE
Commissioned by Michael Parkinson for the 2004 ISJA Big Band, Kraków, Poland
No Baby Ruminations (2004) is a four-movement work for big band written in homage to saxophonist Steve Lacy. Musicians read from what is essentially two scores: a “Source Sheet” containing all melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic information, and a “Workshop Schedule” with procedural instructions. These instructions tell the performer how to manipulate the source material—all compositional determinants, including a broad orchestration, are designated by the Source Sheet. The performer is sometimes instructed to make compositional decisions too; thus the Workshop Schedule, along with the choices made by individual performers, continuously reshapes the piece. This approach is similar to other jazz ensembles that took a compositional approach, namely the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop and the Bob Brookmeyer Jazz Composers Workshop Orchestra. However, these groups worked exclusively by rote, and my approach has been to introduce as minimal notation as possible.
In the first movement, only a single idea is manipulated: Lacy’s favorite pentatonic scales, presented in a number of ways throughout the band. It is as if we’re hearing Lacy in his own practice session, ruminating on just a few archaic materials and listening for infinite resolutions between notes, gestures, rhythms, etc. Hence it’s title, Studio.
The inner movements combine Lacy-esque melodies and patterns with compositional techniques associated with the American concert tradition. These include superimposed chorale structures moving at different tempi and minimalist-inspired ostinatos until, finally, the fourth movement Imbroglio identifies the most important composer in Lacy’s career: Thelonious Monk. Here, I’ve constructed a fairly standard 32-bar tune, built on a phrase structure and symmetric pattern similar to Lacy’s writing, with a bridge resembling the work of Monk. This final section is the most conventional in the entire piece but functions as a summation of the experiments from the previous movements.