While their name may be borrowed, School Days affects a musical persona far from derivative. The Lacy-Rudd project of yore may have been the impetus, but this trans-Atlantic ensemble is every bit its own entity. On their follow-up to last year’s Crossing Division
the group, ostensibly helmed (and financed) by KenVandermark, rolls out another supply of eclectic tunes and dynamic improvisatory action. The Chicagoan contributes the bulk of compositions along with a single entry from fellow Windy City comrade Bishop, and there’s an edginess to the writing and arranging perfectly reflected in the stricken stare of the disturbed woman who graces the disc’s cover art.
Vandermark is in his usual dedicatory mode from the onset and this time the recipients include Larry Young, Bobby Hutcherson and Miles Davis. Starting the engines with the cartwheeling dissonance of “Another Double” the band ricochets through a craggy head and into a round robin of solos initiated by Bishop’s bilious brass. Density disperses in a pugnacious exchange of blows between horns and drums as Vandermark snorts vociferously in wild meaty gusts through his baritone attaching skidding squeals to an already steaming solo. A disheveled palette of scraped percussion and strings undulates beneath, but band sounds as tight as ever. Added to the line-up Nordessen sheathes his usual sticks in favor of mallets, helming the vibes with a veracity that appreciably expands the band’s tonal palette. His cascading clusters, replete with bright amplification, add appreciably to the off kilter ambiance.
Vandermark’s soulful tenor anchors the moody “Off the Top.” His disc-defining solo is at once emotion-rich and tonally persuasive, punctuated by sudden strident stops and keening glissandos. Håker-Flaten and Nilssen-Love carve out a sliding groove beneath him caulked by the glowing willow o’ the wisps conjured by Nordeson’s strategically struck planks. The vibraphonist also proves essential on “What About,” appropriately penned in honor of Hutcherson, closing the cut with an accompanied multi-mallet excursion into harmonic inner space.
Revolving full circle the disc closes with a pair of covers- one unusual, the other perhaps expected. The band expands on Bill Evans “Loose Blues” by treating it more as a tone poem than fully-delineated composition and in the process reveals even more of the piece’s delicate beauty. Don Cherry’s “Elephantasy,” a tune that’s found it’s way into the repertoire of several of Vandermark’s other projects, receives a revamping more akin to its original incarnation as the band rambunctiously attacks the head before dispersing into discursive solos. Jazz was founded on the crux of the borrower’s ethos blended with the creative drive that can only be sustained through singular innovation. School Days has taken this credo to heart and the results of their shared understanding have yielded music of lasting quality.
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