Quirky like Medeski, Martin & Wood but more overtly groove-centric, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz's Zony Mash has always been the intelligent alternative to the often-meandering jam band mentality. Horvitz's idiosyncratic compositions provide a framework for the rest of the groupdrummer Andy Roth, bassist Keith Lowe and guitarist Tim Youngbut Zony Mash has developed a collective sound since its formation in '97. Revolving around improvisation, it's equally informed by funk groups like The Meters, blues-based bands including The Allman Brothers and, to a lesser extent, The Grateful Dead. But rather than sounding like pale imitations, Zony Mash manages to turn these references on their sides, lending a certain intellectual quality that contrasts the group's "go for the gut" rhythmic approach.
Sadly Zony Mash is no more, although it lives on in the equally curious acoustic Sweeter Than the Day. But the good news is that Kufala Recordings, devoted to releasing high quality authorized live recordings, captured Zony Mash's final performances in Seattle, Washington in December '03. The resulting two-disc set, Farewell Shows - Seattle, WA , acts as a primer for newcomers and a memorable document for existing fans of the group's last breath.
Spanning two shows that run nearly eighty minutes apiece, the set captures Zony Mash at its funky best. In some ways, as good as the studio recordings were, they never adequately captured the group's excitement. Some bands are best recorded live, and Farewell Shows manages to document the group at one of its many peaksrelaxed yet energetic, with compositions that lean towards song form, but invariably end up as jumping-off points for extended improvisation. Those leaps come primarily from Horvitz and Young, although Lowe, a diverse player whose r'sum' stretches from the eccentric newgrass of Bill Frisell's Willies to the more aggressive Crack Sabbath, takes a fuzz-bass solo on "Sex Fiend" that is both ardent and vivacious.
What differentiates Zony Mash from its reference points is that while most pieces are extended, nobody ever overstays his welcome. In addition, while there may be a certain predilection towards groove and funk, the broader concerns of all members manage to seep their way into the relatively singular focus of the group. Young may stay within a blues-based vernacular here, but it's peppered with references from his work with unconventional singer/songwriter Robin Holcomb and the more avant leanings of his association with violinist Eyvind Kang.
Every Horvitz recording further reveals just how broad his reach is, though a full appreciation of his diversity is only possible through examining a cross-section of his work. From the introspective solo piano work on his recent Holcomb collaboration, Solos , to his more extroverted leanings with Zony Mash, Horvitz may not have the same kind of name-brand recognition that John Medeski might have, but he's every bit as varied, perhaps even more so. Farewell Shows represents but one facet of his talent, and it's a fitting swan song to a group that, in its six-year run, combined an encyclopaedic musical knowledge with a more naive sense of fun and adventure.
Visit Wayne Horvitz on the web.
Personnel: Wayne Horvitz (B3 organ, Fender Rhodes), Andy Roth (drums), Keith Lowe (bass), Tim Young (guitar)