Various Artists

School Me!, Vol. 1: 1968-1975

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Anyone who has spent much time looking through old LPs at thrift stores (or had a sibling who was active in school band) has seen them -- cheap looking albums pressed by high-school or college bands, in which the "Stage Band" or "Jazz Ensemble" works its way through some popular tunes of the day along with a few lesser-known large-band arrangements. Most of them look like the least promising albums on Earth, so who knows what could be lurking in those long-forgotten grooves? To judge from the dozen selections on School Me! Vol. 1: 1968-1975, there's a lot more going on there than you might expect; subtitled "High School and Collegiate Jazz, Funk, Soul and Psychedelia," this disc features some startlingly funky and skillful jams from long-forgotten privately pressed LPs documenting student stage bands of the late '60s and early '70s. The recording quality is often on the boomy side and the horns sometimes sound more Si Zentner than Tower of Power, but there's a whole lot of genuinely exciting music on this collection. The nine-minute version of "Come Together" from the Cerritos Jazz-Rock Ensemble finds room for wah-wah guitar, extended flute and horn solos, and a funky bassline that Paul McCartney himself would have envied. The S.M. Dorsey High School Jazz Workshop let loose with a appropriately bombastic interpretation of "Frankenstein" that includes some ferocious electric guitar soloing, sample-worthy breakbeats, and a huge horn section wailing for all they're worth. Vocalist Anita Moore tears it up on a tight, muscular arrangement of "Compared to What" with the Texas Southern University Jazz Ensemble. The Morehouse College Jazz Laboratory Band show just how slow and slinky a big band can get on "Hummin'." And the Sacramento High School Swing Choir & Stage Band power one of the most rockin' school assemblies ever committed to tape with a medley of songs from Hair that finds room for a quick dive into "Cissy Strut." If few of the performances are technically flawless, they sound very much alive and thoroughly enthusiastic, and the level of technical skill and imagination of the arrangements will come as a pleasant surprise to many. At a time when so many school band programs are suffering as a result of budget cuts, School Me! Vol. 1: 1968-1975 also serves as evidence of just how many talented kids were out there back in the day, and are probably still deserving to be heard right now -- imagine what bands like this could do with "Hey Ya" or "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" all these years later.

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