“Jazz School” is a collaboration between New Zealander Greg Malcolm and American Eugene Chadbourne, who are both notable musicians, improvisers, and instrument tinkerers. This appropriately titled recording is the product of a session at New Zealand’s Polytech Jazz School and features their interpretations of four songs from Eric Dolphy and two from Steve Lacy. If you’re familiar at all with any of the original works, their basic elements will be immediately recognizable, but Malcolm and Chadbourne manage to reorganize them into something new and decidedly different. They use mostly electric guitar (along with a few other light effects) to craft minimalist renditions of these jazz classics. Their interpretations sometimes work, but mostly fall flat.
Part of the drawback of this recording is its basement demo tape aesthetic. Largely, the looseness of the session makes it sound like the two musicians are bouncing ideas and riffs off of one another, which is of course not the case, given that the songs have already been written. Based on this overall playful aesthetic, it’s very obvious that Malcolm and Chadbourne had a lot of fun doing this, but that doesn’t necessarily make it fun to hear. Part of the problem is that their interpretations retain none of the energy and soul of the originals as they go through the motions of deliberately plodding through Dolphy‘s and Lacy’s melodies and riffs. Without any of the old spark, a lot of the music comes across as the lazy noodling of two guitarists. Still, I’m not calling for a note-for-note rehash, which would be largely pointless. It just seems that covers should capture some of the spirit and excitement of the works they’re based on.
Even though the end result of Malcolm and Chadbourne’s collaboration doesn’t always make for the best listening experience, they should still be applauded for re-imagining and deconstructing classic jazz pieces in order to make them into something new. If they get people to think about this music in a different way, maybe they’ve accomplished, in part, what they set out to do. 4/10 -- Matt Blackall (8 September, 2010)