Ideal Bread: Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy
Thelonious Monk might not be quite the jazz eminence he is today without the late Steve Lacy. The saxophonist devoted himself to Monk's off-kilter pieces, recording them frequently (including several all-Monk albums) and featuring them in live performances. Lacy's advocacy helped establish Monk as one of the foremost composers in all of jazz, not just the avant-garde wing. Of course, Lacy wrote his own music as well, compositions that echoed Monk's deceptive simplicity but charted a course all their own. And just as Lacy made a point of championing Monk, the quartet Ideal Bread exists to champion Lacy, most recently on its second album of his music.
Lacy was even more closely identified with the soprano sax, the recalcitrant junior member of the reed family and his chosen instrument for virtually his entire career. Ideal Bread's frontline of Josh Sinton's baritone sax and Kirk Knuffke's trumpet wrongfoots any "tribute band" vibe right away, but Lacy's voice comes through clearly nonetheless. His composing style revolved around simple phrases, often reiterated and varied repeatedly, sturdy platforms for improvisers to work from. The seven titles on Transmit offer Ideal Bread just that. Sinton, especially, takes advantage of the staccato scales of "Flakes" and the swinging, boppish "The Dumps" to launch wriggling bari chorus after wriggling bari chorus. Drummer Tomas Fujiwara and bassist Reuben Radding provide nimble animation to brooding tunes such as "As Usual" and "Longing" as well as more sprightly numbers such as "ClichAcs." The album channels Lacy's oeuvre in many of its many facets, from the ethereal, free-feeling barely there break of "The Breath" to the more traditional blowing trade-offs of "Papa's Midnite Hop," though Radding's droning pulse keeps the latter piece a step removed from a traditional feel. In all, this is finely observed, adroit music that rewards attention without any backstory to enrich it. Lacy-the-composer may never rival Monk for primacy in the canon, but with recordings like this, his music isn't going anywhere.