It is wonderful news that The Whammies have added a third volume to their series paying homage to the great Steve Lacy. The first volume deservedly garnered praise from all quarters and established a model which seemingly makes it easy to roll out further editions. The ingredients of that model are straightforward enough — a core group of international musicians who operate as a tight unit and are attuned to each other's instincts, a shared knowledge and love of Lacy's music and that of his inspiration Thelonious Monk, an exploratory attitude to that music rather than an attempt at faithful reproduction of the originals, and energy levels commensurate with the group name.
For this third volume, there are significant changes, but they do not impact on that winning formula. Firstly, the personnel remains unchanged except for the replacement of bassist Nate McBride by fellow Chicagoan Jason Roebke, a change that does not dramatically impact on the group sound. So, drummer Han Bennink and alto saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra remain in place — crucial as they each have links back to work with Lacy himself. Secondly, this album was recorded live in concert, not studio-recorded like its predecessors, and that does have a great impact. Although the first two volumes never lacked energy, this one is a quantum leap up by comparison. Spurred on by enthusiastic Italian and Austrian audiences in March 2014, all members of the group respond in kind and turn in performances bursting with verve and energy.
The selection of music played is as before, all Lacy compositions except for "Hornin' In" by Monk. However, no piece is repeated from before — by no means is this band "playing the albums live". Their versions are a creatively eclectic combination of ensemble playing with freer improvised passages. At times their ensemble play is theatrical enough to be mistaken for the Willem Breuker Kollektief (high praise, in my book) but they never let it flip over into vaudeville. The band contains enough fine soloists — including pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, trombonist Jeb Bishop and violinist Mary Oliver — to ensure an unending stream of stimulating music laced with surprises. The Whammies are so good that if they did not exist someone would have to invent them. Roll on Volumes 4, 5, 6... and plenty more great live gigs, too!
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