Tuesday, July 05, 2011

"School Days" Contains Classic Interpretations of Monk's Music

School Days is the somewhat legendary recording made by the quartet of soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, trombonist Roswell Rudd, bassist Henry Grimes (and other bassists) and drummer Dennis Charles. This was a band with a repertoire of Thelonious Monk plus a few tunes from Cecil Taylor and Kurt Weill. While they recorded two studio albums, one of which was issued by Cuneiform decades later (and the other lost), this live performance from Phase Two in New York City from March 1963 was initially issued in 1975 and surfaced over the years. Emanem has just reissued it for the first time in the order the music was performed that evening. The original CD is augmented by two 1960 recordings Lacy made while he was in Monk's Band (the only known documentation of Lacy's time with Monk).

Lacy had already recorded several albums by the time this quartet was recorded, including the first album devoted to Monk's tunes by someone other than the pianist-composer himself. There is a playfulness to the performances here, from the opening Bye-Ya to Skippy. Grimes is not on Bye-Ya or Pannonica, the first two tunes of that evening. The interaction between the players, whether Lacy and Rudd ("Bye-Ya"), or the two horns trading fours with Charles (whose own playing throughout is responsive to the horns), or Grimes taking a solo (Monk's Mood), the music is spirited and very suggestive of Monk's own performances. Six of the seven performances of the quartet are full performances with only Pannonica being heard in an excerpt.

All four were in terrific form at Phase Two back in 1963. One can easily imagine if Monk had sat in with the quartet, him adding a few chords here or there without much changing. This was recorded by a single mike and is only in mono, but the recording captures the remarkable music they produced. The two fine performances of Monk during Lacy’s tenure with them, Evidence, and Straight No Chaser, are with a band that included Charles Rouse on tenor, John Ore on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. While these selections were previously issued under Monk's name, this reissue of theme is stated to have has much better sound for those two performances.

Martin Davidson provides an overview of the recording while saxophonist Evan Parker recalls hearing this performance, an interview by Davidson with lacy from 1974 and an excerpt from a 1961 piece on lacy by Ira Gitler. The quality of the supporting materials is on the level of the wonderful music here.

This was a recent purchase from jazzloft.com

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