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Steve Lacy, Irene Aebi, and Frederic Rzewski

Steve Lacy writes, "There are two different kinds of jazz: offensive and defensive. If they are well played, they are both 'on the brink,' due to the spontaneous nature and individual character of this music." Lacy has spent his musical career wandering between the "defensive" and "offensive" styles, hovering "on the brink" for much of his life. He began "defensively" in 1950 in New Orleans, playing all the old numbers. But before long, Lacy was working closely with the legendary Cecil Taylor, and soon switched to the 'offensive' free jazz approach. During the six years Lacy worked with Taylor (1953-59), he consistently pushed the boundaries of jazz. Later, when working with Gil Evans and Thelonious Monk, Lacy found himself pushed to his personal limits by what he could accomplish on the saxophone. Lacy writes, "I was constantly beyond my depth, sometimes lost and always playing only what I could, on my instrument, the soprano sax, itself being an instrument 'on the brink.' It was completely in disuse when I began. Nobody could teach it to me really, and nobody could tell me what, or how to play on it." He continued to expand his musical scope, and while in Rome in the 1960s Lacy met Irene Aebi and Frederic Rzewski. The three have worked together ever since. Lacy and Aebi married, and she has sung texts on a number of his projects, including works by writers such as Lao Tsu and Braque. Aebi also plays violin and cello, and has appeared on Bobby Few and Derek Bailey recordings.

Born in Massachusetts in 1938, pianist Frederic Rzewski studied music at first with Charles Mackey and subsequently with Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, and Milton Babbitt at Harvard and Princeton Universities. Rzewski's early friendship with Christian Wolff and David Behrman and his friendships with John Cage and David Tudor strongly influenced his development in both composition and performance. In Rome in the mid-1960s, with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum, he formed the MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva) group, which quickly became known for its pioneering work in live electronics and improvisation. Bringing together both classical and jazz avant-gardists (like Lacy and Anthony Braxton), MEV developed an aesthetic of music as a spontaneous collective process, an aesthetic shared with other experimental groups of the same period.

Lacy composed Packet in 1992 as a musical accompaniment to the poetry of Judith Malina and Julian Beck. In 1982 Malina gave Lacy and Aebi a copy of her just-published Poems of a Wandering Jewess. Aebi fell in the love with the words and the idea of putting them to music. Lacy notes, "The songs are about theatre, life, death, birth, aging, pain, wandering, being a woman." All of these feelings come through clearly in the recording. "Do Not Judge Me Lightly #2" is one of two instrumental numbers on the album, while "Joy" features Aebi's unique vocal style. The atmosphere and feeling created by Rzewski's piano and Lacy's saxophone are deeply intertwined with the lyrics:

"I said to Joy,
What is your meaning,
Since we are doomed to death
& every end is sad?

Joy answered ME :
My name is deaths delay,
So I embraced her
And I bade her Stay."