Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy's School Days has had a long and checkered release history. Recorded live in New York in March 1963, it was first issued on vinyl by Emanem in 1975 and later reissued on QED, an Emanem pseudonym. It first appeared on CD on Hat Art in 1994, and again on Hatology in 2003. Now, its CD release on Emanem is cause for celebration for several reasons. Most importantly, it puts this wonderful album back in circulation again, where it should be a permanent fixture.
School Days consists entirely of Thelonious Monk compositions. Throughout Lacy's recording career, Monk was central to his music. He repeatedly returned to Monk pieces in many different contextsLacy's huge discography is dotted with album titles referring to Monk or his song titles. Aside from Monk himself, Lacy was the finest interpreter of Monk's music, and Lacy's own compositions often reveal Monk's influence on him.
By the time School Days was recorded, Lacy already had plenty of experience of playing and recording Monk. The crucial element that School Days captured for the first time was the combination of Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd, a partnership that would endure for decades. Lacy and Rudd both sound rich and full-toned, as their lines weave around each other, seemingly effortlessly. In similar fashion, Henry Grimes on bass and Denis Charles on drums make the quartet swing. The four together played the compositions straight and had the knack of making them sound flowing and naturalnot always the case with others' interpretations of Monk.
Compared to past issues of School Days, this one makes some important changes. The sound quality is at least as good as any other issue, often better. For the first time, the pieces are presented in the order they were performed. And, as a bonus to the original album, two live tracks"Evidence" and "Straight No Chaser"have been added, on which Lacy is heard performing as a member of Monk's own quintet at a jazz festival in Philadelphia in August 1960. The quintet includes Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone; while he and Monk get the lion's share of solo space, to hear Lacy playing with Monk puts the original School Days into an interesting context. Yes, School Days has come home, and it is very welcome.
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