Jazz Institute of Chicago

School Days: In Our Times

School Days: In Our Times

While their first opus maintained some ties with the eponymous Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd group, In Our Times finds the band severing them and bringing some changes. The quartet is now a quintet with Kjell Nordeson—a member of the AALY Trio—joining the crew. Recorded live in a club in Norway , the music feels rawer and more reckless, especially in Ken Vandermark’s case. There is definitely a bigger stress on improvisation but the musicians forgo self-indulgence to stay concise and focused.

They mostly perform Vandermark originals that often seem like alibis for buoyant improvisations. Jeb Bishop contributes one composition and two covers round out the program. The latter may be the best tracks. Bill Evans’ “Loose Blues” comes out as a surprising choice, but their sensitive rendition clearly shows that School Days are highly capable of finesse and thoughtfulness. On the other hand, “Elephantasy” is a more obvious pick considering Vandermark’s affection for Don Cherry’s music, and shows yet another side of School Days—uplifting and full of verve.

Vandermark’s playing is often at his most effusive and forceful. A welcome balance is provided by Jeb Bishop’s more unruffled trombone. His well articulated solos are a true delight. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten act as perfect foils, providing the proper support to each soloist. As for the new cohort, Kjell Nordeson, who is featured exclusively on vibes; he adds new sonorities and can be an element of stability when he sustains repeated riffs beneath the soloists. Also, his playing on Vandermark’s “What About”—dedicated to Bobby Hutcherson—and on Bishop’s “The Octopus” echoes the great vibraphonist’s Blue Note period.

Finally, In Our Times is an opportunity to assess Vandermark’s progress on the baritone saxophone—the latest addition to his instrumentation—which increases his sonic palette and opens new doors.

Available at www.okkadisk.com.

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