Ideal Bread – Beating the Teens: Songs of Steve Lacy [TrackList follows] – Cuneiform Rune 386/387, (2 CDs) 60:13, 61:46 [5/13/12] ****:
(Josh Sinton – baritone saxophone, arrangements, co-producer; Kirk Knuffke – cornet; Adam Hopkins – bass; Tomas Fujiwara – drums)
Jazz tributes are common, whether single tunes, entire albums, or specific groups. But Ideal Bread is unique within the jazz community. The quartet, led by baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, exists solely to perform the music of soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy (who passed away a decade ago). The foursome consists of Sinton (who studied with Lacy); cornet player Kirk Knuffke; drummer Tomas Fujiwara (see also Thumbscrew and Living by Lanterns) and new bassist Adam Hopkins. The Whammies also do Lacy homage work, but Ideal Bread has been around longer (they formed about ten years ago) and takes Lacy’s music into fresh and imaginative realms. On Ideal Bread’s third release, the double album Beating the Teens: Songs of Steve Lacy, Sinton and his group put Lacy’s music and legacy into a different framework. Up to this point, Ideal Bread was mostly a Lacy-repertory band. But this time out, Sinton realized a shift was needed. His idea was to use Lacy’s music as a flexible musical vessel which could be reshaped, reconstructed and even deconstructed, and thus alter Lacy’s compositions into conceptions which remain instilled with Lacy’s spirit but are wholly singular.
The foundational canvas Sinton tapped was the 1997, three-CD boxed set, Scratching the Seventies/Dreams, a compilation of five Lacy LPs, from his generally avant-garde Parisian era, issued from 1971 to 1977 on the French Saravah label. This is rich and dynamic music which showcases Lacy’s burgeoning compositional style. Sinton transcribed all of the material on Scratching the Seventies/Dreams, then re-arranged pieces. Sinton established three rules: he could only utilize a compositional device up to three times; each arrangement had to have individual contexts to emphasize one or more of the quartet’s instruments; and, when possible, Sinton chose to pen new drum parts (some of Lacy’s tunes were solo cuts or did not otherwise have drums). Sinton states, “Many of my favorite composers can write for drums. It’s about time I learned to do the same.”
The result is over two hours of improvisational music which careens from gentle to dissonant/noisy; embraces diverse types of music; and builds abstracted, elongated statements from relatively short tracks (only a few go over five minutes). Each disc has 15 tracks. On CD 1, Sinton’s sax effects are heard on tunes such as the ambient The Precipitation Suite, which fits three sections (“I Feel a Draft,” “Cloudy” and “Rain”) into less than four minutes. The swinging “The Paris Rip-off” fades in mid-jam and then just as suddenly recedes at the conclusion. The contemporary “Scraps” contains an off-kilter, dance-inclined drum beat offset by horn riffs, which gives a funky but wobbly sensation. The thoughtful “Dreams” has a measured, avant-garde tilt highlighted by Hopkins’ arco bass, Fujiwara’s brushed cymbals and gradually louder toms, and Knuffke and Sinton’s twinned horns.
The second CD is also replete with ambitious creativity. There is an angular fluctuation which permeates “Ladies,” which has a modified motif with a trace of the blues. When Lacy recorded “Crops” he employed free improv guitarist Derek Bailey. Here, Sinton redoes the number so Hopkins’ groove-laced bass is an integral element, while the melodic theme is centered by punctuated cornet and sax. The lanky “Spell” has incantatory horn embellishments which show a dark humor, particularly the juxtaposition between Sinton’s lower register notes and Knuffke’s higher register tones.
Lacy’s versions of “The Uh Uh Uh” and “The Oil” were funky. Sinton keeps the groove and soulfulness, but thankfully dispenses with the processed vocals which marred the originals. Instead, Sinton communicates via his conversant sax on “The Uh Uh Uh” and crafts an avant-groove drive on “The Oil,” where Hopkins’ rock-based bass is a vital component. There are vocals, of a sort, on “Roba,” which is reminiscent of the wicked musical wit of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Over a rolling rhythm, and behind the in-and-out horns, the quartet members shout out the title at odd intervals.
The project is constructively engineered by Tyler Wood, who has both rock and jazz credits. He and Sinton decided not to produce a typical jazz outing where a band remakes a live setting in the studio. There is that manner of improvisational interaction, but there are also sonic references which were subtly added during the mix. The outcome is a seamless transfer between stark moments and sometimes busy arrangements, and between lyrical and rhythmic instances. Beating the Teens is not for all tastes, but should be a necessary buy for anyone with a deeper than customary Lacy collection, and/or anybody who appreciates liberal interpretations of free-form jazz.
CD 1: Three Pieces from Tao – I; Obituary; The Precipitation Suite (I Feel a Draft/Cloudy/Rain); Wish; Lesson; The Wire; Paris Rip-off; Cryptosphere(s); Scraps; The Highway; The Wane; Dreams; Somebody Special; Name; Three Pieces from Tao – II
CD 2: Three Pieces from Tao – III; The Owl; Spell; Crops; Pearl Street; Ladies; Blinks; Cryptosphere; Lapis; The Uh Uh Uh; Torments; The Oil; Notre Vie; Roba; Three Pieces from Tao – IV