Given the musicians assembled by pianist T.Lavitz on School of the Arts, it would hardly be hedging your bets to expect an out-and-out chops fest. What may come as a surprise, however, is that it is practically an all-acoustic affair. And whilst the tempo of the music is almost relentlessly fast, there are not so many solos that you'd lose count. When they do come, though, you'd better hang onto your hat.
With all bar two of the compositions written by Lavitz, his personality is indelibly stamped on the music. When he's not comping or marking rhythm with percussive chords, his breezy sound shadows the runs of violinist Jerry Goodman and the guitars of Frank Gambale and Steve Morse. He breaks free here and there to deliver fresh, uncluttered solos and his high register preference on the keyboard suggests the spirit of Bruce Hornsby.
Ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist Goodman is thankfully enjoying something of a late-career renaissance. Here he lends his unmistakable sounda blend of jazz, country twang and bluegrass soulto "No Time Flat," the Yellowjackets-like "Dinosaur Dance," and "Like This," where he really lets go. His playing is full of zest and the pity is that his contribution is restricted to these three tunes alone.
Not to be outdone, Gambale demonstrates eye-popping technique on the melodic opener, "Fairweather Green," and "High Falutin' Blues," playing with a fluidity more associated with the electric guitar. Fellow guitarist Morse, whose collaboration with T. Lavitz goes back to the end of the 1970s with the Dixie Dregs, impresses on "Portrait," with a ballsy blues solo on a song which evokes Al Di Meola.
Fast for sure, but melody and form are never sacrificed on the altar of virtuosity. On Gambale's "Gambashwari," drummer Dave Weckl switches to brushes and the pace of the music eases up a little. The final, quiet word goes to Lavitz on "Maybe Next Time," a solo piano piece which sounds part Keith Jarrett, part Dr. John and closes the album on a lyrical note.
Lavitz, in stellar company, has produced something of a rarity; an acoustic album with the vitality of electric fusion, and feel-good tunes which are a celebration of the joy of playing.
Personnel: T.Lavitz: piano; Dave Weckl: drums and percussion; Frank Gambale: acoustic guitar; Jerry Goodman: violin (2, 5, 8); John Pattitucci: acoustic and electric bass; Steve Morse: acoustic guitar (3, 4).