Thursday, January 25, 2018

Lavitz, Weckl, Gambale, Goodman, Patitucci & Morse - 2007 "School Of The Arts"

School Of The Arts: The brainchild of keyboardist extraordinaire T Lavitz (Dixie Dregs, Jazz Is Dead), SOTA culls the supreme talents of such fusion and progressive instrumental music heavyweights as drummer Dave Weckl (Chick Corea) bassist John Patitucci (Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter), guitarist Frank Gambale (Corea, Vital Information), electric violinist Jerry Goodman of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Shadowfax, and Dixie Dregs fame, and T's longtime friend, Dregs mastermind, and Magna Carta label mate, monster axeman Steve Morse. “School of the Arts is different from every album I've ever done as a leader," says Lavitz.

Keyboardist T Lavitz’s fusion credits include the Dixie Dregs and Jazz Is Dead, but he gets extra points for craftiness in putting together this collective. Lavitz seemed to realize that an electric fusion outing by this cast would be deemed predictable, so outside of the occasional electric violin by Jerry Goodman and bass by John Patitucci, he went all acoustic. That element of surprise, and musical chemistry (Lavitz, Goodman and guitarist Steve Morse play together with the Dregs; Patitucci, drummer Dave Weckl and guitarist Frank Gambale with Chick Corea), make for inspired playing. Goodman sounds better than ever, including during his 1970s stint with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. His unison lines with Lavitz’s piano, along with Weckl’s intricate drums and percussion, energize “No Time Flat.” The guest appearances by Goodman and Morse (on the Dregs-like “On Fire” and neo-classical “Portrait”) create highlights throughout.

Lavitz was never a major composer in either the Dregs or Jazz Is Dead (a highly intricate Grateful Dead cover band), yet he wrote nine of the 11 pieces here. The results are mixed, ranging from the off-timed, Goodman-enhanced “Like This” to his predictable “High Falutin’ Blues.” Gambale’s “Gambashwari” and “Teaser” seem designed, as do most of his solos, to showcase more technique than soul. More problematic is the fact that Lavitz recorded his piano in Massachusetts, Weckl recorded his drums in California, and some of Patitucci’s bass lines were captured in New York. It’s a system of convenience that never works as well as recording collectively in the same room. Weckl is a wonder on the percussive showcase “A Little Mouse Music,” but elsewhere his free-rein tracks occasionally cross the overplaying line. For School of the Arts, Lavitz and company get a passing grade, but don’t always show their expected A-worthy work.

Cutting-edge compositions, beautiful sinuous melodies, and massive chops make School of the Arts (SOTA) a truly rare confluence of influences and musical styles, pushing jazz and jazz-fusion into another dimension.

With SOTA, Lavitz (with four decades experience in the music biz - having played with such wide-ranging musicians as Widespread Panic, Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham, Nils Lofgren, Pat Benatar, Jefferson Starship, Mother's Finest, Dave Fiuczynski, Peter Himmelman, Dennis Chambers, Jeff Berlin, and Scott Henderson) is top dog, playing acoustic piano (an instrument close to his heart), and composing most of the material for the band's debut.

Underscoring Lavitz's empathy and musical instincts, is the keyboardist's ability to spearhead and hold together the SOTA project, despite each member's busy schedule: Morse is constantly touring with Deep Purple (occasionally with the Dregs); Jerry Goodman is an in-demand electric violin trailblazer; Patitucci and Weckl crisscross the globe with various artists and solo work; and likewise for Gambale, who recently finished a tour with Billy Cobham.

“The music is definitely interactive," Lavitz says. “When I take a solo, there's Frank Gambale answering me, like something you'd hear on a gig."

Case in point: the Afro-Latin acoustic jazz tune “Gambashwari." Sinewy guitar and piano chords/notes weave around one another in syncopated patterns, stating main, contra and counterpoint melodies. It's breezy, not cheesy, jazz -- the kind that possesses sophistication without being elitist, boring or unlistenable. It's utterly infectious jazz-fusion with aspirations toward chamber or classical music, with rock's reckless abandon simmering just under the surface.

Other tracks include, “High Falutin' Blues" (an appropriate title for a song that crosses the boundaries of country, blues, and jazz), “Like This" (listen as Weckl locks into Patitucci's sparse bass line all the while commenting on Goodman's and T's jazzy/bluegrass-esque soloing acrobatics), and “Teaser" (a Chick Corea-style acoustic rocker, complete with trill-filled piano performances, blanketed by Weckl's silky stream of beats). “Dave Weckl laid down some of the best drum tracks I've heard in a while," Lavitz says.

Despite the obvious -and some might say inevitable--chops heard on this record, the high level of musicianship never detracts from the overall flow of the compositions. In fact, the record has a ring of newfound freedom; of a songwriter allowed to spread his compositional wings, which recalls the artistic creativity and motivation that drove Lavitz to create his 1986 solo debut, Storytime - an album produced in the wake of a Dregs' breakup. “I am very excited about this, because not only did I get to write the bulk of the music, but I produced, played and played only acoustic," says Lavitz. “While it has elements from other recordings I've done, it seems, at least to me, to stand out as being very different."

Track listing:

01 Fairweather Green 5:29
02 No Time Flat 4:49
03 On Fire 4:54
04 Portrait 6:19
05 Like This 4:55
06 High Falutin' Blues 5:10
07 Gambashwari 5:01
08 Dinosaur Dance 6:09
09 Teaser 5:09
10 A Little Mouse Music 7:41
11 Maybe Next Time 3:58

Personnel:

• T Lavitz: Piano
• Dave Weckl: Drums & Percussion
• Frank Gambale: Acoustic Guitar
• Jerry Goodman: Violin (Tracks 2, 5, 8)
• John Patitucci: Acoustic & Electric Bass
• Steve Morse: Acoustic Guitar (Tracks 3, 4)

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