School Days

In Our Times

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Modern jazz for the millennium -- what else can you term it? Hard-hitting, filled with joy, and yet somehow unpretentious, School Days produces sounds splendidly and even magnificently. Vandermark and Bishop are both in top form for this concert recorded live in Norway. Has School Days ever recorded anything less than exciting? By the time of this recording, the group was so tight, so well-prepared, and so immersed in a tradition of free jazz that all the pieces sound logically self-evident -- which of course none really are. Jeb Bishop's trombone is more upfront and in-your-face than on previous recordings by the group, and he shows a more confident and aggressive side than is customary: He growls and cajoles, his exposed (though clearly well-practiced) sound rough and raw. His raunchy punches transcend the moment with a secretive view toward the future, while Vandermark (who is also in tiptop shape) appears relieved to share the responsibilities of leadership. The real sleeper is vibraphonist Kjell Nordeson, who infuses his instrument with invigorating structures. At its heart, School Days is about melody and its ability to stretch and bend, which it does here with uncanny regularity The roots go back to Ornette Coleman -- an obvious influence -- but School Days takes them to another dimension with a more varied palette and a more diverse instrumentation, not to mention some extraordinary writing and soloing. For those who enjoy Jeb Bishop's talking trombone or Ken Vandermark's offbeat saxes, this one just can't be beat. Even among the remarkable discography of School Days and of Ken Vandermark, it stands out as a prime release.

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