January 15, 2001
Okka Disk OD 12037
Rough, ready and rollicking School Days — yet another (!) band built around Chicago multi-reedist Ken Vandermark — can be heard as a veneration of the glory days of ESP Disk, and especially the contributions of powerhouse Free trombonist Roswell Rudd.
Probably named for the Monk-tribute band Rudd led with Steve Lacy and harkening in its sound to the New York Art Quartet, another 1960s band featuring Rudd, School Days has its "Rudd" in trombonist Jeb Bishop.
An admirer, not an imitator, Bishop has own tone — a pleasant, irregular burr — and uses a variety of mutes to make individual musical points. Contributor to the success of the Vandermark 5, the trombonist is also a bandleader in his own right. Two of the compositions here are his; two are 1960s classics from Rudd, with the remainder arising from Vandermark's pen. Content in his supporting role here, the reedist moves back and forth from clarinets to tenor saxophone, helping to produce the maximum tonal color available from the instruments representing music's four basic food groups: woodwinds, brass, strings and percussion.
Additionally, the group is literally "crossing Division" on this date. Referring to more than the Chicago street, "division" is a subtle acknowledgement that both rhythm players are Norwegians, who have worked with many Euro improvisers, most notably in a trio with frequent Vandermark collaborator, Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson.
Håker-Flaten and Nilssen-Love's rhythmic accomplishment shows how times have changed since the 1960s, when American soloists in Europe would yearn for a crackerjack Yank rhythm section. Today, these two couldn't be bested by any North American bassist and drummer. In this CD's lend-lease arrangement, the two do much more than merely maintain the ostinato underpinning.
On "Counteraction", for instance, they provide a level rhythmic playing field for Vandermark and Bishop's forays, while Nilssen-Love even gets space for an unshowy solo. Then on the Bishop-composed ballad, "Smoke Rings", the trombonist's plunger mute explorations are complimented by guitar-like strums from Håker-Flaten, who also has a balanced solo in a more common register on Rudd's "Rosmosis".
Throughout Vandermark gets to decorate Bishop's solos with R&B-meets-Energy Music tenor sax work, Dolphyesque bass clarinet solos and his distinctive mid-range clarinet tones. As an aside, anyone interested in learning jazz history could probably find collecting discs by the dedicates in Vandermark compositions — Harry Carney, Teddy Charles and Mal Waldron get the nod here — would educate them more completely than watching Ken Burns' JAZZ.
If there are any complaints about CROSSING DIVISION, they're strictly extra-musical. Why not say exactly which reeds Vandermark plays on each track? And why not include some biographical details about the bassist and drummer, who are certainly unknown to most North Americans?
Other than that, these School Days certainly show golden rules.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Bookworm 2. Counteraction 3. Broad Daylight 4. Passenger 5. Rosmosis 6. Get On The Plane 7. Smoke Rings 8. Keep Your Heart Right
Personnel: Jeb Bishop (trombone); Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten (bass); Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)