School of the Arts
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.