Frank Lacy Sextet at Smalls 2/27/18 (by Dan Lehner)

PERSONNEL: Frank Lacy (flugelhorn, vocals), Michael Wang (trombone), Stacy Dillard (tenor and soprano saxophones), Helen Sung (piano), Ryan Berg (bass), Brandon Lewis (drums)

SET LIST: Gonzin’ (Lacy), Think on Me (George Cables), Carolyn’s Dance (Lacy), Pamela (Bobby Watson)

HIGHLIGHTS: Lacy’s lack of trombone playing didn’t make the performance feel empty; his well-known, robust vocal style filled the set with soulful bravado on “Carolyn’s Dance” and his proficient, perhaps-less-well-known flugelhorn playing both complimented the top register of the horn lines and made for a familiar yet personal solo instrument.

True to his idiosyncratic nature, Frank Lacy didn’t play any trombone. Taking the Blakey-esque top voice role on flugelhorn, Lacy led a burnished front line over a potent rhythm section that gave everybody a workout.

“Gonzin'” is a hard-bop/post-bop tune with asymmetrical rhythm section hits and a harmonically cycling B section, gave a good introduction to the group’s philosophy.  Brandon Lewis cracked his snare drum through the negative space of the melodic lines and took an almost overwhelmingly explosive solo.  Stacy Dillard played in the Wayne Shorter tradition, a mixture of keening authority and slippery harmonics that fit neatly into the logic of the composition.

Lacy exhibited a remarkable aptitude on flugelhorn. Much of the time he favored single-chorus jaunts filled with texture and one-to-two note pepperings, but on the lively, plena-like rhythms of Bobby Watson’s “Pamela,” he strung together a series of small but assertive phrases strung together with long threads of bebop runs that would cap off in a series of high flutters like Freddie Hubbard.

George Cables’s “Think on Me” provided a vehicle for Michael Wang’s considerable phrasing and technique, shifting around tupletted phrases in the high register a la Conrad Herwig, swooping up and down the mid to high registers of the trombone. Ryan Berg’s approach to the tumbao figure was similarly robust and wide-ranged, a thick texture interspersed with doubled-up rhythms.

Helen Sung helped bring disparate elements together, flipping on a dime between mimicking the group’s percussive energy and offering teetering and crooked bop lines at breakneck speeds. In one instance, she used a mid-chorus horn monã as a jumping point to unravel a solo line that was unbroken for almost the entire rest of the chorus before slamming back into the two-handed rhythmic figure.

Lacy’s group was diverse in personal style, but united in the sort of devotional power people have come to expect from this leader.

by Dan Lehner