Robin Holcomb/Wayne Horvitz: Solos (2004)
You can unbuckle your seat belt with this one, because it's not going to hurt to lean forward and listen closely. Two pianists who share more than just overlapping interests in music, Robin Holcomb and Wayne Horvitz are life partners as well. Their first co-billed collaboration on record (after multiple shared appearances) comes in the form of a collection of solo piano pieces, including eight originals, three covers, and three free improvisations. These pieces, which are mixed up in sequence over the course of the hour-long record, include eight performances by Horvitz and six by Holcomb.
Horvitz, a free-spirited keyboard player with a tendency to go electric, is probably the better known of the pair, making an early splash with John Zorn's Naked City and going to participate in subsequent genre-spanning explorations of outer sound with Pigpen, Zony Mash, the 4+1 Ensemble, and Mylab , among others. Holcomb, who's new to my ears, is a recognized singer-songwriter/instrumentalist with an impressive discography of her own on Nonesuch and Sound Aspects. They currently live in Seattle.
Most of what transpires on Solos is fairly reflective, introspective stuff, though there are moments of heightened intensity and drama. The cover art is actually fairly representative of some of the crisp, stark landscapes within. The most lasting impact comes with track six, the thirteen-minute "Before the Comet Comes," composed and performed by Holcomb with no improvisation. At times minimalistic, at others intensely lyrical, the piece feels warm and openbut the persistent unrest that's transmitted at many points through irregular phrasing, touches of dissonance, and the deep, rumbling crash midway through just can't be shrugged off without some deeper consideration.
Jazzier touches come through on Horvitz's understated, bluesy treatment of Wayne Shorter's "Armageddon" and "Stars Fell on Alabama," which will likely surprise listeners accustomed to some of his more dramatic and often groove-centric flourishes elsewhere on record. It's counterbalanced by the generous, wide-open spaces on Horvitz's improvised "Interpretation #2" and the unpredictable nooks and crannies on Holcomb's start-and-stop free improv "The Pleasures of Motion." Notable throughout are references, direct and oblique, to American folk music.
A solo project is by definition the most personal avenue a musician can pursue, and a shared one like this is especially so. These intimate sketches hang together with the glue of personal experience, transmitted through the medium of sound.
Note: this recording was recorded and mixed in DSD and comes in the hybrid SACD format, which works with conventional and SACD playback devices.
Track Listing: Reno; Tired; Armageddon; The Pleasures of Motion; Joanna's Solo; Before the Comet Comes; Stars Fell on Alabama; Interpretation #1; The Road to Zamora; Buttermilk Hill; Up Do; Interpretation #2; Done For; Crispin and Lisa's Duet.
Personnel: Robin Holcomb (piano), Wayne Horvitz (piano).