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Wayne Horvitz' Gravitas Quartet has come a long way in the two years since its exquisite debut Way Out East. The group has refined its genre-bending chamber music to where composed passages melt seamlessly into improvisations in moments of striking intimacy. One Dance Alone perfectly balances Horvitz' composing skills and his bandmates' creative prowess.
As the group name suggests, there's a quiet dignity that pervades One Dance Alone. The quartet navigates 11 tracks with the precision and collective breath of a practiced classical ensemble, but manages to imbue each piece with the wit and spontaneity of the greatest jazz performances. The wry humor in Horvitz' writing is present in his soloist's language and is dispensed liberally throughout the album. "A Walk in the Rain" is more of a lilting two-step in the hands of the leader, who toys with blues, stride and impressionistic flourishes throughout the six-minute track, often behind Ron Miles' ebullient trumpet.
Cellist Peggy Lee and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck contribute heavily, both as accompanists and soloists and are given the free reign that was noticeably absent on Way Out East. On the minimally melancholic "July III," Lee's bowed phrases evoke muted colors and weave an irregular pattern around Horvitz' rubato accompaniment. Schoenbeck is equally haunting on "To Say Your Name," a piece that bookends an unassumingly gorgeous theme with esoteric ensemble passages. Three-and-a-half minutes into the piece, the surrounding voices evaporate and Schoenbeck's improvisation comes to the fore. Her quietly assured statement and the passages that precede and follow it capture the album's essence: unapologetic experimentation and unflinching devotion to melody.
The quite literally-titled Ostinato And... doesn't leave the listener guessing for long. A quick listen, or even a glance at the track titles, is enough to complete the sentence. Improvisations by multi-instrumentalist Diana Wayburn's band, in various permutations, act as a foil to the meditative originals that lie at the heart of the album. Wayburn's style as a composer and instrumentalist sits at the crossroads of jazz and world music and her choice of bandmates reflects this. Justin Wood, who also plays saxophone on the album, often doubles her flute and the group is rounded out with the unique timbres of cello, sitar, bassoon and percussion. While the group's full sonic capabilities are never fully exploited, there are moments when the voices blend to form a compelling original sound.
"Light" features the entire sextet over a pulsing rhythm that is volleyed throughout the ensemble. Dawoud Kringle's sitar floats over the gentle ostinato, striking chords and running probing lines before bassoonist Schoenbeck takes over. She is the standout throughout the album, especially on her improvised solo track. In a whirl of throaty overtones and grating multiphonics, the bassoonist shows what her temperamental instrument, in the right hands, is capable of and hints at things to come.
Tracks and Personnel
One Dance Alone
Tracks: July II; A Walk In The Rain; July III; A Fond Farewell (for Nica); July I; To Say Your Name; Waltz From Woman of Tokyo; One Dance Alone; Good Shepherd; We Never Met; Undecided.
Personnel: Wayne Horvitz: piano; Peggy Lee: cello; Ron Miles: cornet; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.