Personnel: T Lavitz; Dave Weckl; John Patitucci; Frank Gambale; Jerry Goodman;
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.
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 Ts longtime friend, Dregs mastermind, and Magna Carta label mate, monster axeman Steve Morse.
School of the Arts is different from every album Ive ever done as a leader, says Lavitz
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, Mothers 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 bands debut.
I wrote nine of the eleven songs, pretty much every note, says Lavitz. I even wrote the parts for drums and bass. I really enjoy sequencing guitar, bass and drums after I write a song, even if those parts are just demos.
Underscoring Lavitzs empathy and musical instincts, is the keyboardists ability to spearhead and hold together the SOTA project, despite each members 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, theres Frank Gambale answering me, like something youd 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. Its breezy, not cheesy, jazz -- the kind that possesses sophistication without being elitist, boring or unlistenable. Its utterly infectious jazz-fusion with aspirations toward chamber or classical music, with rocks 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 Patituccis sparse bass line all the while commenting on Goodmans and Ts jazzy/bluegrass-esque soloing acrobatics), and Teaser (a Chick Corea-style acoustic rocker, complete with trill-filled piano performances, blanketed by Weckls silky stream of beats). Dave Weckl laid down some of the best drum tracks Ive heard in a while, Lavitz says.
With the assistance of co-producer/recording engineer/mixer Wade Starnes, the tracks have come together seamlessly. He is the go-between guy for all of the different files, in different programs, we receive, Lavitz says. He is very important to this project.
Despite the obvious and some might say inevitablechops 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.