Jeremy Steig ‘Liberty’ CD (Asako Sasaki) 4/5

Much can be said about Jeremy Steig, born on September 23, 1942 in Manhattan, New York. His recording career goes back to 1964 with his Columbia debut, Flute Fever, a review summed up by Cash Box printing “Jazzophiles should really dig the set” – one can almost see the reviewer adorned with beret and pipe. His path was formed with a further 20 albums to follow on some of the most respected labels in Blue Note, Sonny Lester’s Solid State, Reprise, Capitol, MPS, Verve, enja and CTI. Those early days introduced him to Bill Evans, a Grammy Award nomination and Newport Jazz Festival before his “highly-commendable” praise for his ‘This Is Jeremy Steig’ release in 1969 by Record World magazine. ‘Temple Of Birth’ was a Top Album Pick for Billboard magazine in 1975 whilst Cash Box described it as having “urban sophistication”. The latter awarded ‘Outlaws’ for their Jazz Album Pick in 1978; the same year he was producing and performing with Ray Mantilla for Inner City records. 1977 saw Jeremy move to the famed CTI label for ‘Firefly’, taking over, one might say, from Hubert Laws was seen to be a good commercial move at the time. His collaborations with Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Walter Davis Trio, Richie Havens and particularly Eddie Gómez – together on 7 albums – is sufficient supporting evidence for any credential debate on the Steig topic. And if that wasn’t enough of a talking point, his cartoonist/author father William curated the original Shrek character and Jeremy played the scene for the Pied Piper in the 2010 Shrek: Forever After movie – yes you read that correct!

Revived through his classic ‘Howlin For Judy’ break in the ‘90s whilst it is considered Will Ferrell’s flute parody in the movie Anchorman is more than a nod to Jeremy give respectful kudos to his work as one of jazz music’s most notable flautists who, it can be said, has slipped off the musical radar. How this writer was delighted to delve deep in the Steig history these past few weeks, prior to receiving the album at hand, with writings and art throughout the website – a diary in the life of Jeremy Stieg. For those that may have cut off from all things Steig in the 70s with CTI’s Firefly, it is a belated joy one finds in discovering far more about Steig than merely his music, and particularly that of post-’70s. Jeremy’s Art Gallery in Yokohama. His art and that of his fathers. The publication of ‘Get Me Out of Here: A Memoir’ in 2020, which was published through Byroad Press to fulfil Jeremy’s final wish. A website full of diary entries that permit the visitor to delve into Jeremy’s day to day life. There’s no end to the flood of archival delights. My only disappointment is the almost non-existent live footage of him in performance.

So Autumn 2021 will arrive with a brand new album of unreleased works. For this posthumous release, we have 10 compositions self-recorded by Jeremy through Pro Tools during his years back in New York and those final years in Japan before cancer took him from us in 2016 aged 73. Years that were full of adventure, performing with bassist Tetsuya Mashine on his arrival from the States in 2004. A collection of carefully chosen songs presented here are but a small sample of those recorded and archived and delightful to acknowledge there may be many more releases to come. Having been a fan of his music for some time and often absorbed in his ‘Fusion’, ‘What’s New’, ‘Outlaws’ and ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ albums it is such a delight to know there is a possibility of much more to tap in to.

Cover painting by Jeremy Steig draws us in to the opening piece, ‘Ragtag Gypsy Enters a Cathedral’, set alight by the keyboard player Jim E. Greyset in organ mode before flute takes charge. A thought-provoking drone-like spiral of meditation upon which flute is overdubbed. ‘I Don’t Care’ drifts in with much melody and joy. This is not solo flute per say but a series of overlays playing off each other. ‘Yokobue’ solo flute clearly reminds us of the playing prowess built up through a lifetime of playing all manner of flute variations before ‘Yokobue’ lifts the pace with added tribal synth support before ‘90s ‘Jungle I’ and ‘My Friend Jim’ pairs contemporary flute and piano. Overdubs return through ‘Suite “Spontaneity”’ with flare. ‘Across the Lake’ is aided by percussion with subtle lift for the flute before ‘Jungle II’, the second of two 1990s pieces, comes in with emphasised keyboard effects, at times sounding close to tabla. This is a creative piece showing Jeremy’s diversity and writing abilities. ‘Miss Quail Egg’s Theme’ then layers those flute sounds on top of each other to a comforting warmth before the closer, and album title ‘Liberty’ arrives. Jeremy plays all manner of flute here including Kotato and Piccolo. He is even tapping bottles! The trepidation felt on first pressing play was washed away. What with these ears not hearing anything new by Steig since his 1992 album ‘Jigsaw’, the apprehension had set in.

The recording dates for these pieces span from 1990s through to 2015 but it must be said that they sound very much in sync with each other and to these ears fit perfectly together as if one recording date. The focus is clearly on the flute and what can be achieved alone in a studio for most parts. It’s not so much an all-guns-blazing assault as one may recall on classics like ‘Oleo’ but the transition of a creative soul exploring his chosen instrument over a lifetime; constantly pushing for the sound that is Steig and to those responsible for choosing these individual pieces to produce another document in the life of Jeremy. Liberty is limited to 100 copies worldwide through the Jeremy Steig website and it is with profound enthusiasm that this writer encourages you to investigate the album, his musical history and his love of the arts.

Hungary’s Nagykanizsa Jazz Festival paid host to Steig in 1980 with Eddie Gómez – It’s a befitting tribute to close on.

Steve Williams

Read also:
Jeremy Steig ‘Howlin’ for Judy’ CD (Blue Note) 3/5