5) Ideal Bread - Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy (Cuneiform)
The first thing I noticed about Ideal Bread was their unconventional instrumentation: trumpet, baritone sax, bass and drums. For you, the line-up might bring to mind the famous Chet Baker/Gerry Mulligan "pianoless quartet" from the early '50s. For me, it also brings to mind my band. So, naturally, I was excited to hear what this group of expert improvisers was going to do with those instruments. Once I started listening, I was beyond pleased.
The verbosely titled Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy is a set of witty and grooving interpretations of compositions just now receiving a proper airing. Steve Lacy is widely considered one of the great soprano saxophonists and a leading architect of the jazz avant-garde, but damned if I can remember anyone ever playing one of his tunes on a gig. Ideal Bread saxophonist Josh Sinton (also a member of Darcy James Argue's Secret Society) studied with Lacy at New England Conservatory and took up the dissemination of Lacy's music as something of a cause upon moving to New York.
Personally, I wasn't familiar with any of the Lacy tunes on Transmit before hearing the album, but the band does a superb job of illuminating Lacy's unique compositional style. The tunes are remarkably logical. During the heads of certain pieces, like "Flakes," you can almost see the math playing out in front of you on a chalkboard, the simple melodic motif traveling around the band, building in intensity as a descending harmonic line provides counterpoint and forward motion, culminating in a perfectly timed unison statement just before the improvisation begins. The appeal of Ideal Bread is how they take these intensely logical, almost geometric tunes and use them as springboards for soul-searching improvisations that explore the nether regions of bop.
Trumpeter Kirk Knuffke is a killer improviser with a gorgeous sound that has been reaching a lot more ears since his recently joining the Matt Wilson Quartet (who played my favorite live jazz show this year, so far, at the Green Mill in April). Bassist Reuben Radding has a big, classic sound that is used most effectively for laying down foundational bass lines, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara moves lithely between tasteful swing and fluid, out-of-time explorations.
It must also be mentioned that the band has a sense of humor, most apparent on the track "The Dumps," during certain sections of which all four band members yell out, "The Dumps!" in all manner of silly voices before jumping right back into the quirky theme. It takes a special group of jazz musicians to be willing to engage in that type of out-of-the-box music-making, and that spirit is apparent throughout the disc, whether they're yelling with their voices or through their instruments.
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