Saxophonist Steve Lacy (1934-2004) is one of preminent players of the soprano saxophone, first starting in Dixieland then branching out to the works of Thelonious Monk. Later in his career, he traveled extensively focusing on chamber works and free improvisation. In 1996 during a residency in Berlin, he wrote The Cry, a jazz opera based on the writings of Bangladeshi poet Taslima Nasrin, his upstairs neighbor in Berlin. Nasrin’s contribution to the project sparked controversy, as Nasrin has a fatwa issued against her by Islamic fundamentalists. At the premiere of the work, Nasrin performed behind bulletproof glass. The Cry is a decidedly feminist work, with women taking all of the major roles as performers, designers and within the text itself.
The Cry debuted in Berlin in January 1997. Three months later Lacy performed the opera in Paris at the Theatre Dunois. The following year the group recorded the opera and gave it’s American debut at the DC Jewish Community Center. In the Washington Post review of the opera by Christopher Porter, he says “The distinct sounds from Petia Kaufman’s harpsichord and Cathrin Pfeifer’s accordion married European classical music and French cabaret even as the soprano saxes of Lacy and Tina Wrase circuitously droned and dueled like spiritual pied pipers.” To see the work in progress, Cathrin Pfeifer uploaded this short video where you hear Tina Wrase starts a motif on sopranino saxophone and is joined by Lacy. Here is the same work on the album, released by Soul Note in 1999.
While he was composing The Cry, Lacy commented on the nature writing an opera. “It’s no coincidence at all; it’s one of those written-in-the-stars things. This is what we came to do here—though we didn’t know that. It’s an adventure also, and it’s a dangerous adventure, so we’re playing it cool. I swore I’d never do it. I swore, oh man, I never want to do that! We had enough trouble with musical theater pieces and dance pieces.”
To learn more about this opera and the works of Steve Lacy, you can pick up Steve Lacy Conversations, edited by Jason Weiss through Duke University Press. This book is a compilations of his interviews and writings about music.
Steve Lacy Conversations. ed. by Jason Weiss, Duke University Press, 2006. pg. 186-187