"Ideal Bread" By Hank Shteamer of Timeout New York
If Little Women is subversive/confrontational/marauding, Ideal Bread has a certain reverent quality about them. And it makes sense given that they are indeed a tribute band, playing Steve Lacy's music exclusively. Their debut CD-R (pic'd above), gettable from KMB Jazz, is one of the few tribute CDs I've ever found truly worthwhile (see also, uh, Lacy's Reflections) and in general really something else--I state that a tad more eloquently in the latest issue of The Wire, with Carla Bozulich on the cover--but they were, as one would hope, even better live when I saw them tonight as part of a KMB festival at the new Douglass Street Music Collective (formerly the Center for Improvisational Music). (Gotta give brief props to Ras Moshe, who was absolutely burning in classic free-jazz mold when I entered, along with the very sick and supple drummer Rashid Bakr, of Other Dimensions in Music fame.)
Ideal Bread is most certainly a band. As far as I know the lineup has been steady for several years and these players really, really inhabit this music. Lacy--I'll spare you the whole "I'm obsessed" rant; lord knows I've been down that road--was an ultraprolific composer, but one who hasn't really been reckoned with as such, and as the Ideal Bread mission statement seems to go, the band is attempting to tackle that reckoning as Lacy did for Thelonious Monk. It remains to be seen whether Ideal Bread will stick it out as long as Lacy rocked Monk (over 40 years), but they seem well on their way.
I was surprised when I heard their CD that their Lacy predilections seemed weirdly identical to mine, in that they pay special attention to some of the obscure Lacy records that have knocked me down most, namely the astounding mid-'70s joint Trickles, and the astounding late-'70s joint Capers (reissued as N.Y. Capers and Quirks). Both feature Lacy outside his way-sympathetic stably staffed Sextet but in equally fruitful company. As on the CD, IB took on "Trickles" and "Quirks" tonight along with another favorite, the Johnny Hodges dedication "Esteem."
"Trickles," which opened the set, demonstrated the band's mastery of the material. The piece has this very strange, playful opening passage that on the original record is played sort of out of time, with the instruments hovering and floating around one another. IB nailed that section, perfectly capturing its weird weightlessness, and moved confidently into the manic marchy section that follows.
They really killed it on "Esteem" as well, a droning, luminous yet ominous piece that features one of Lacy's most arresting melodies; grand, imposing, somewhat terrifying. I noticed on this piece--which flowed uninterrupted out of "Trickles"--how naturally the improvisations grew from the heads. There was a sense of jumping into spontaneity, but doing so confidently, with a clear compass. Kirk Knuffke on trumpet took an incredible solo here--one of several throughout the evening--showing off his remarkably round tone and patient phrasing. Josh Sinton's statement was killer as well, focusing on an upper register of the horn that actually fell in the Lacy-an soprano range. But he also went for the burly bottom of the instrument, providing nice contrast. Drummer Tomas Fujiwara brought the closing head to an awesomely anguished climax with some muscular bashing.
Fujiwara and bassist Reuben Radding kept things extremely funky in general, trading fours on the last piece ("Baghdad," an unrecorded composition that was apparently Lacy's final tune) and Duo-ing in the intensely intertwined mode of Little Women's Laplante and Jones on "Quirks."
All in all, there was a simple lesson being played out, namely that really knowing the music frees you up to extrapolate from it. Ideal Bread is playing Steve Lacy's pieces, but it's also putting in the time to own those works and respond to them emotionally. Sinton and Knuffke especially emanated feeling; their solos gave a sense of meditating on and communing with the compositions. I really, really hope they keep this project up; selfishly, for one, because I adore Lacy's music, but also because it really seems to be getting them places as individual improvisers and yes, as a BAND.