I first came across T Lavitz, when I picked up his Extended Play recording in late 1985. I had no idea at the time who T Lavitz was, but I recognized Chet Catallo, Eli Konikoff and Dave Samuels of Spyro Gyra, so I took a chance and bought the LP. I liked what I heard, and have pretty much followed all the iterations of his bands and solo recordings ever since: Solo recordings, The Players, The Bad Habitz, The Connection, Cosmic Farm, Endangered Species, Boston T Party, and now, School Of The Arts.
Regardless of the recording or supporting players, you can’t help recognizing Lavitz’s distinctive writing and playing, something that I can only describe as “Countrified Jazz Rock.” School Of The Arts is Lavitz’s most straight ahead recording since 1991′s Mood Swings, and in my opinion, his strongest session in a long time. That’s not to say last year’s Boston T Party wasn’t good – in fact, it was great, just more along the lines of a jam band. This group, which includes three fifths of the Elektric Band, is just so incredibly strong. Besides Dave Weckl on drums, John Patitucci on bass, and Frank Gambale on guitar, former Dixie Dregs bandmate Steve Morse on guitar and former Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodman also joins Lavitz. Listen to the third track, “Portrait” – the energy is just incredible, these guys tear it up. Steve Morse wails on acoustic guitar! Jerry Goodman steps up front on “Like This,” a tune that is typical of Lavitz’s “Countrified Jazz Rock” approach. “On Fire” is full of that signature Lavitz sound, of the big thumping bass and acoustic piano attack that he’s employed so successfully over the years. “Fairweather Green” reminds me of an updated version of the Dregs – albeit, an acoustic version anchored by John Patitucci’s acoustic bass.
In a year of some very interesting and good recordings, this may be my #1 pick. If you like your jazz cerebral and muscular, then School Of The Arts is a keeper.