Ideal Bread – Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy – Cuneiform Rune 296, 53:56 ****:
(Josh Sinton – baritone saxophone, producer; Kirk Knuffke – trumpet; Reuben Radding – bass; Tomas Fujiwara – drums)
What is ideal bread? It is part of a quote by legendary, late composer/soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, who passed away in 2004, in which “ideal bread” is the best possible outcome of a continuous compositional process. What is Ideal Bread? A quartet dedicated to Lacy’s wide-ranging, infrequently covered repertory, led by baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton with trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Tomas Fujiwara.
Transmit is the second volume in an ongoing appreciation of Steve Lacy’s music, following a limited edition, self-titled 2008 CD-R. Sinton is uniquely qualified to bring Lacy’s music to a wider audience: he studied with Lacy at the New England Conservatory, performed with Lacy, served as Lacy’s copyist and is now busy transcribing Lacy’s vast catalog.
Most of the interpretations are true to Lacy’s vision. While Sinton relies on the fundamental harmonic and melodic bases of Lacy’s unconventional, often repetitive themes he changes up the arrangements by providing a few twists and tweaks. The lineup also gives Lacy’s music a different tonal quality since there is no soprano saxophone and no piano, which frequently carried the chordal structure in Lacy’s groups.
Sinton, Knuffke, Radding and Fujiwara play with a tightness and precision almost classical in its demeanor. A good example is geometrically intricate “Flakes,” where the quartet initiates a symmetrical idea and gradually ascends from a horizontal hierarchy to a diagonal aspect. Sinton and Knuffke begin with cohesive statements that incrementally become oblique and abstracted: from repeated details to freely improvised phrasing.
Sinton follows Lacy’s lead with the translation of “The Dumps.” When Lacy organized his Thelonius Monk tribute music, his iterations combined elements from several versions of Monk pieces. Sinton does the same on this raucous, six-minute romp. Lacy fans will recognize the familiar intro. But the foursome intersperses mantra-like vocal recitations of the tune’s title into strategic places and the bass and drums make use of a martial rhythm. During the arrangement Sinton plays a certain phrase, then operates like Ornette Coleman as he deliberates an instant for inspiration and moves ahead to something consciously unplanned that inevitably slopes back to the planned again. The way Sinton and Knuffke revel in unison freedom is akin to finding an important piece to a puzzle you did not know you were working on.
The dominant pivot point is the nearly 12-minute long, “Clichés,” which Sinton reworks as a vigorous Afro-Cuban vamp. The first soloists out of the gate are the horns. Sinton paces his phrases so each phrase flows into another but heightens to an increasing complexity; Knuffke succeeds with the same enticement, drawing in listeners with recurring notes that flourish into unexpected angles. While Fujiwara’s drumming is superb on all the tracks, he is especially keen here with a lengthened percussion break.
In typical fashion, Cuneiform – Peter Karl in particular – catches the quartet’s reserved strength with immaculate fidelity. The brass regularly dips into lower registers and Karl captures those deeper tones with clarity; also the bass and drums are furnished supple warmth that counterbalances the sometimes sharp sax or trebly trumpet.
1. As Usual
3. The Dumps
6. The Breath
7. Papa’s Midnite Hop
— Doug Simpson