Sara Schoenbeck/Wayne Horvitz: Cell Walk

Dan Bilawsky By

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Sara Schoenbeck/Wayne Horvitz: Cell Walk
The relationship between Sara Schoenbeck, one of the only bassoon practitioners to truly and successfully fold the instrument's sound into the realm of chamber jazz, and pianist Wayne Horvitz, a touchstone in creative music, has been documented in the past. The work of Horvitz's Gravitas Quartet, formed in 2004 and featuring Schoenbeck alongside trumpeter Ron Miles and cellist Peggy Lee, is but one indicator of the way those two have managed to meld the roaming and refined into a single concept; and the pianist's Some Places Are Forever Afternoon (Songlines Recordings, 2015), drawing inspiration from the work of poet Richard Hugo while adding guitarist Tim Young, bassist Keith Lowe and drummer Eric Eagle to the established foursome, is yet another, more forward look at how they connect. Both of those bands and formats suit the pairing, but neither one highlights it like this pared-down meeting.

Clearing away their comrades, Schoenbeck and Horvitz settle in for a collection of (mostly) miniatures that both rise to great heights and sink to dark depths, all the while showcasing synergy and sympathies of an extraordinary nature. The program includes spellbinding melodic drifts spied from a distance and sourced from the heavens, descents into catacombs echoing cacophonous lines, meetings with the proudly sedate, and curious turns of phrase that soothe and suggest multiple pathways. The music is never short on surprise, and it's always focused on a fine balance in voicing and vision(s).

Opening on "Undecided," a beautifully resigned gambol and glide across waters of reflection, and "Twining," which finds the bassoon wrapping a dark plait around stark piano, Schoenbeck and Horvitz immediately establish a duality in emotional expressions. As they continue exploring different nooks, what started out as that single, yin-and-yang split becomes ever more fragmented. The waltz-time flow of "No Blood Relation" is a source of comfort. The prickly and foreboding messages in "Long Wing" offer warnings. The propulsive "Tin Palace" drives Stravinsky-esque menace straight to the heart. And "For Lou Harrison," presumably dedicated to the contemporary classical composer, builds atop dancing and dizzying note pairs.

Eleven of these performances were recorded at Pyatt Hall in Vancouver, where Horvitz had the use of a beautifully-maintained Steinway D, and a follow-up session in Brooklyn added six more, all involving his addition of electronics. But the collected works play like one single statement and offer little to no hint of a split-session mentality. Whether paying a debt to Cecil Taylor with the title track, lending slow-flow paranoia form on "Sutter St.," entering the alien territory of "We Will Be Silk," or visiting the idyllic-turned-mysterious "American Bandstand," Schoenbeck and Horvitz operate as one, playing to the music and moment more than the spaces they inhabit.

Cell Walk, broaching fresh territory in multiple ways, suggests an unusually aligned sense of understanding shared between two unique artists. This is the rare case where the phrase "one of a kind" can be applied to the individual(s), the collective entity and its album all at once. Delivering music with incredible depth of presence, Sara Schoenbeck and Wayne Horvitz prove mesmerizing.

Track Listing

Undecided; Twining; No Blood Relation; Long Wing; 3 Places in Southern California; The Fifth Day; Deep Well Well; Tin Palace; Cell Walk; Sutter St.; Laughter; For Lou Harrison; Sleeper Ship; Ironbound; Marcuselle; We Will Be Silk; American Bandstand.


Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon; Wayne Horvitz: keyboards.

Album information

Title: Cell Walk | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Songlines Recordings

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