THPT -- Taylor Ho Bynum (you read his blog, right?), Pete Fitzpatrick, Thompson Kneeland, Harris Eisenstadt
swaying to the gentle strains of Jimi Hendrix
Ideal Bread -- Josh Sinton, Kirk Knuffke, Reuben Radding, Tomas Fujiwara
rockin' the music of Steve Lacy
TIN/BAG Quartet -- Mike Baggetta, Kris Tiner, Brian Walsh, Harris Eisenstadt
making their own special brand of sounds
Again, no cover (though hats will be passed and support will no doubt be gratefully and graciously accepted).
I saw Ideal Bread back in December at Jimmy's Restaurant. I didn't have time to blog about the hit at the time, but I was very impressed and asked Josh to submit his thoughts on the gig:
Why do I perform Steve Lacy’s music?
I have three reasons for doing this. The first reason is simply to honor and promote the artist Steve Lacy. I met Steve my last year in school and studied with him and he kind of changed my life. I had never met such a unified human being. By that, I mean he’s was all of a piece. The way he walked, played, wrote and talked were almost all interchangeable. When he walked down the hall, I could almost hear one of his songs in my head, and when he talked, it was eerily similar to when he played his saxophone. He came to mean an enormous amount to me as a teacher, composer and friend even though I only knew him for a little over two years. As for promoting him, Steve’s compositions are a unique and very American contribution to the world. While he might evoke other composers, no one else wrote what he wrote. Once you start listening to his music, you can instantly recognize one of his compositions as easily as one of Monk’s, Ellington’s or Webern’s. And there’s a lot of this material (anywhere from 300-500 compositions depending on who you aks) to choose from. No one else is regularly playing his music (yes, occasionally) so it struck me as fertile material for exploration and promotion. I looked at Lacy’s music and realized that maybe I could do a little for his music what he did for Thelonious Monk’s music.
Read the rest below the fold...
The other two reasons I perform this music are personal ones. In regards to Steve’s music, I operate from a point of ignorance. What I mean is that I don’t understand many of his compositions (they are over the years becoming clearer to me), but I still find them compelling. I’m hoping that by playing this music, I can make more sense of them. It’s a little bit like going on a walk and seeing an object at your feet that grabs your attention. Maybe it’s just a crushed milk carton, but something about its contours and dimensions grabs your imagination. Rather than just walking past it and forgetting it, you decide to bend down and examine it more closely. Even if you can’t figure out why it’s grabbed your attention, you can at least imprint its image in your consciousness more firmly. After all, valuable information is valuable information, no matter where it is sourced from.
Finally, I perform this music because I’m interested in repertoires. Not as abstract concepts, but as fluid vehicles/containers for the creative artist. Specifically, a lot of music has been written by the creative jazz community in the past 40 years, but very little of it is actively played. When musicians talk about what they learned from music of the recent past, they talk about abstract concepts like ‘freedom’ and ‘finding your personal voice.’ When they talk about music of the more distant past (pre-’65), they talk more often about concrete things like songs and harmonic approaches. I don’t have a beef with any of this, I just thought it might be interesting to turn this status quo on its head. Why not talk about concrete contributions of the recent past? That is, why not use the songs and improvising strategies of this ‘era?’ You don’t need Julius Hemphill to play “Dogon A.D.” to make it a great song, it IS a great song. The same can be said for the music of Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, John Carter, Marion Brown, Jimmy Giuffre, Misha Mengelberg, Steve Lacy, etc. While I admit some compositions may be knottier, thornier, or more ephemeral, that doesn’t disqualify them from being performable. Just because their strategies differ radically from improvising strategies on “All the Things You Are” doesn’t make them useless. After transcribing a fair amount of post ’65 material (late Coltrane, Hemphill, Threadgill and Giuffre among others), I hit upon Steve’s music. It just felt very ‘right’ for me. There’s a lot of variety and lot of difficult issues in his music. And there’s simply a lot of it. It just felt like there was a lot of material there for me to use but it offered a lot of creative possibilities as well.
How do Ideal Bread’s versions of these songs compare to Steve Lacy’s versions?
Well, at the risk of being annoyingly obvious, that depends on the song in question. Before I talk about each song in Sunday night’s set, I’ll mention a couple general things I learned from Steve.
I studied with Steve for a year. During that time we had an hour long lesson every other week and he directed a school ensemble I was in that met for two hours every week. Steve didn’t talk a whole lot about what he wanted people to play (actually, in general, he was a man of few words). When it came to reading the ink, he wanted the pitches and rhythms played correctly, but that was about it. As far as improvising went, he said very little. Generally, if you played something that was out of place or didn’t work, that’s when he would speak up (“No man, that’s not it at all.”). If he liked what you were playing he would either nod, or you would sometimes here him mumble “Yeah man” while you were playing. More often, if you played something good, you just knew that from his demeanor. What I did notice from playing with him was that the more I sounded like myself, the more calculated risks I took, the more responsive a listener he became. I know other students realized this as well. One guy told me, “You know, today in ensemble, I just stopped worrying about what Steve was going to think and I just played. He smiled! I don’t get it.” So yes, while there was no concrete thing you could play that would guarantee his interest, it was a safe bet that the less you worried about his approval, the more likely it would be that he’d show an interest.
A lot of Steve’s music has concrete, recognizable aspects. This is one of the things that drew me to his music. It all starts with the melody. He would almost always write that first. The melody will often be very repetitive. He left up to us to puzzle out how to repeat ourselves without boring ourselves (just as an aside, at school we would have 10-12 weeks to get ready for our ensemble concert. After the 2nd rehearsal, Steve would have all of our music picked out. That meant we played the same 5-6 tunes for 8-10 weeks, every week before it was performed). By repetitive, I don’t mean just phrase wise (although it is that, with phrases repeating themselves anywhere from 3 to 18 times), but also intervallicaly. It’s obvious that he loved 4ths and 2nds, but he also loved major and minor 3rds. It’s the WAY he repeated these intervals rhythmically that forms a big part of his voice (one can find these three intervals in countless musics). Often he would move a very pattern oriented way. Usually leap-step-leap-step etc. with the leaps being the same interval (usu. a 4th or a 3rd).
After he wrote the melody, he would write a bass line and then possibly a counter-line. I’m pretty sure he learned this approach from Monk’s music, but there is precedent in other composer’s material (he had a huge love for the music of Ellington, Webern, Charlie Parker, Mingus and early Cecil Taylor as well). He rarely wrote chord changes for his tunes, but that was not a hard-and-fast rule. Some of the songs we did have a steady harmonic rhythm. By the time I met him, his approach with his music would often work this way. 1.) Play the Intro (repeated 2, 3 or 4 times). 2.) Play the song. 3.) Either return to the Intro and/or beginning improvising using the material in the Intro. Improvisations were almost always based on the introductory material. He did not specify how we should elaborate on this material, he would leave up to us. Often it meant confining ourselves to a single scale. Sometimes a seemingly banal one like the C-major scale and other times a scale synthesized from his melodies. 4.) After improvising, play the song again. 5.) Tag the last 2-8 bars and repeat them three times.
Again, I have to emphasize this, Steve did not tell us what to improvise. I think he was genuinely curious about what we ourselves would come up with using this material. I’ve taken that as one of my primary approaches with this music. While I try observe all the concrete instructions in regards to playing the ink (the exterior of the form), the only person I listen to when improvising is myself (the interior of the tune). Likewise, I try not to tell the other band members what to play when we’ve finished the reading portion of the song. That’s for them to decide.
One final note about our set list.
At this point, I suppose it would be helpful to reproduce the Jimmy's setlist:
Okay, now. Back to Sinton:
Half of the tunes came from a record called N.Y. Capers & Quirks. It was reissued a few years ago by HatArt. It’s a trio record Steve recorded around 1979. It catches him at a rare moment when he was fronting a trio (made up of Ronnie Boykins and Dennis Charles) in the U.S. when he was often playing in Europe with his quintet at the time. Over the course of several weeks of waking up to this record, I completely fell in love with and began obsessing over it. I then transcribed as much of the written material as I could discern. This was made up mostly of saxophone melodies and repeated bass lines. When playing this material, I essentially tried to imagine how Steve would rehearse it (get the ink right, don’t worry about the improvisation. When in doubt, repeat the stuff again rather than question the music’s idiosyncracies.) when I knew him and approached it that way. Since we’ve got two horns playing what was a single horn’s line, we just play it together in unisons or octaves (one of Steve’s favorite approaches). I’ve been extremely satisfied with the results. The group started from a rather didactic place and is beginning to find it’s own voice in this container. Just a small example, when we play “Capers” and reach what I call the ‘D’ section, Tomas begins to play something reminiscent of a 50’s Afro-Cuban thing. This isn’t on the record and no one told him to do this. He just started to do it because the material suggested that to him. And everyone in the group thinks he made a pretty great decision.
“Esteem” – I learned this tune from Steve while playing it in his ensemble. I have two recordings of it. An early one (The Gap) and a later one (Revenue). The early version of it has no chord changes. The later version (the one he taught me) is an 18 bar form with written chord changes. That’s the version I personally play, but I let the rhythm section make their own decision about what they’re going to do (so far we’ve agreed with each other even when we take different approaches). He wrote it for Johnny Hodges.
“Bud’s Brother” – transcribed from N.Y. Capers & Quirks. I don’t know who he wrote this for or if he had any improvisatory strategies in mind. Currently we play it through the way he played it on record and then let the improvisations go in any direction that the material suggests.
“Capers” – also from the same album. The only thing different about how we play this is that due to the extreme repetitiveness of some of the sections (two of the sections are made up of a 3 beat phrase repeated 18 times), I use octave shifts to delineate where we are.
“Kitty Malone” – again, same album. I think it took us about two months just to get through this tune, let alone improvise it. It still kicks our ass.
“The Bath” – one of his more well-known tunes, recorded numerous time (I like his 90’s trio version on The Rent). It’s 32 bar form with written chord changes. He taught to the ensemble when I was in school. Written for Dexter Gordon.
“Baghdad” – one of his last (if not his last) compositions. He wrote this as a protest song in the months leading up to the Iraq invasion. (I still remember him asking all of the students if they could tell him about any protest rallies/marches in the Boston area that he/we could attend. Sadly, none of us knew of many.) I’m pretty sure this tune wasn’t recorded. It started with the melody and then he wrote the bass line. He eventually wrote 8 accompanying lines for this piece. It was played by the school’s faculty at big school sponsored event. It’s pretty intense (almost insane) sounding with all the parts present. In our version, I play the lead line while Kirk plays one of the trumpet parts Steve wrote for the large ensemble version. The tune has an AAAB form. After that’s played, each player plays several choruses of a C-major blues. This is followed by a group improvisation which leads to (in Steve’s words) “War.” When war is over, then the theme is played again with last two measures repeated three times. I don’t think he got around to dedicating this piece to any one individual. It stood more as his anti-war song. He played it often at his concerts during the last couple of years of his life.