When Josh Sinton organized this Steve Lacy tribute band a decade ago it was just that – a resurrection of the esteemed saxophonist’s chestnuts so new ears could marvel at their unique designs. Featuring some of New York’s most inventive instrumentalists, the ensemble – drummer Tomas Fujiwara, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, and bassist Reuben Radding – did a terrific job of making their hero’s odd structural lines flow invitingly. From “Papa’s Midnight Hop” to “Kitty Malone” they brought panache to the pieces (Sinton studied with Lacy), and it was a treat to hear the late master’s tunes come alive again.
But repertory missions sometimes have a creative wall built into them. For their third album Team Bread (band name taken from a Lacy pearl about how improvising is like baking fresh loaves each day) has ditched the overt reproduction approach and instead crafted charts that genuflect to the originals while brokering a more kaleidoscopic spin. Sinton chose a focus – Lacy’s *Scratching The Seventies/Dreams* box set – and tasked himself with reimagining these tunes just enough to have their souls remain intact while new bodies were issued. Lacy played soprano sax, Sinton is a bari man, so there is already some distance between their essential sounds. Adam Hopkins is the bassist these days, but Ideal Bread’s general tone hasn’t changed much since their start: four cats inject themselves into the heart of a songbook and peel back layers of the music to reveal more about themselves and the music at hand.
Pondering questions of flexible authorship and how a 21st century improviser messes with myriad sources is part of the fun here (don’t forget, Lacy upended plenty of Monk nuggets). Sinton and associates make you think about the pliability and definition of “a cover tune.” But *Beating The Teens*’ joys are elementary as well. After lots of bandstand time, the quartet’s chemistry is superb, and the architectural ploys they craft provide plenty of room for their wily gambits. Knuffke has a sly way of coming around corners. Fujiwara can be dense and lilting. Hopkins trusts the power of melody. Sinton banks on textural nuance, even when he’s shredding. Everything is up for grabs in these fertile interpretations. A horn theme in an original Lacy piece might become a fragment for the bassist to run with here. One of Lacy’s key rhythms might re-routed forever. Listeners shouldn’t go hunting too closely. A/B’ing the updates with the source material could turn up as many questions as answers. Uncertainties are left hanging in the air – that’s a good thing. But it’s not as if you can’t hear Lacy floating through the program. The descending lines in the theme of “The Wane,” the quacks of “Scraps,” and especially that eerie aura the bari creates on “Somebody Special” – yep, Lacy’s around for sure, probably grinning as his progeny try their hand at making their own ideal bread. If you try sometimes, you get what you knead.