This is the second release, following 2008’s self-titled debut, by a quartet dedicated to performing compositions by soprano sax god Steve Lacy. Now, I hate the sound of the soprano saxophone with the white-hot fury of a thousand suns. I think it ruined a bunch of great Miles Davis records from the early ’70s—throughout 1969 and all the way until about 1973 or so, Davis had a soprano saxophonist in his band, bleating and squawking over the sparking, splattering keyboards, thick bass and slashing funk-rock rhythms, and it made records like Black Beauty and It’s About That Time much less awesome than they would have otherwise been. I don’t care who’s playing the skinny horn: John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, even Lacy himself. It’s like someone’s drilling my teeth at gunpoint. Hate, hate, hate.
So Ideal Bread wins a thousand points from me right off the bat, simply by not having a soprano saxophonist in the band. Instead, their lineup features Kirk Knuffke on trumpet, Josh Sinton on baritone sax, Reuben Radding on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. These are sounds I love, sounds I could listen to all day. The timbral combination of trumpet and baritone is uncommon, and it just soothes my ears and mind to hear it. The loose, capital-I Improv-informed work of Radding and Fujiwara adds swing when it’s required to keep things moving, and of course they’re fully locked in at the beginning and end of each piece, but most of the time they’re kind of conducting a side conversation of their own, and that’s fine. Excellent, in fact.
There are moments that don’t work. I found the vocals on “The Dumps” annoying, not funny or cute. But most everything else is great, combining an almost New Orleans-ish polyphony with thick, bumping rhythms. The nearly twelve-minute “Clichés” is the album’s most raucous track, including a terrific percussion interlude from Fujiwara. The slower tracks, “Longing” and “The Breath,” create a more atmospheric mood. And the swinging, boppish closer, “Papa’s Midnite Hop,” brings things to a perfect conclusion. This is a great disc that gives me an appreciation for Steve Lacy’s compositions that I never would have been able to get had I been required to suffer through the bleating of the instrument I hate most in the world. (Yes, even more than the oboe or the bassoon.)
1. Do I foresee myself listening to this record again? Yes.
2. Should you buy this record? Yes.
Link to purchase, if you’re so inclined…
Regarding Miles and soprano, the legend goes that Miles was so impressed with Wayne Shorter’s playing on the sop (despite having only picked the sop up at late 1968) that he demanded henceforth that no tenor saxophonist could ever play with him unless he could also double on soprano. Which meant that if you wanted to join Miles Davis group as a saxophonist, you had to play the sop as well.