is a musical universe unto himself. Has been for well over 35 years. And it's not just his stick-to-it-ive-ness that continues to make his music so damn engaging, a contrariness redefined. Consider these two recent releases as prime examples. The composer/bandleader/keyboardist (who turns 60 in 2015) has a musical history that just might grab you by the throat, if not coax you into some kind of mesmerizing trance. 55: Music And Dance In Concrete
and At The Reception
could not be more different. And yet they spring from the same musical mind. One is somewhere in Eno-land with serious dashes of ultramodern classicism, a music untethered and full of atmospheric ambient un-regularities when it's not just plain jarring. The other's a more conventional but still totally idiosyncratic kind of Count Basie meets Charles Mingus meets Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band meets someone in musical theater by way of ... Wayne Horvitz. (His name alone bespeaks otherness.) And then there's Butch Morris
, to whose memory At The Reception
is dedicated to. I admit it: I can't keep up ... reading his current bio, I realize I know even less about Wayne in 2014 than I thought.
We begin with the basics, as in Basie. But not really. Having cast his net far and wide as a former New York City downtowner/native back in the day (think Bill Frisell, John Zorn, Elliot Sharp, et al.) and a recipient of commissions for theater and dance as well as music in and of itself, Horvitz has been back in Seattle since the mid-'90s, forming bands and making more music than, as they say, you can shake a stick at. The guy refuses to be bottled. And with At The Reception
, we get a kind of big band version of the musical mind of Wayne Horvitz usually displayed elsewhere, through his crossover efforts as well as, again, some kind of theater. The Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble springs from the Royal Room, a club in Seattle that Horvitz, since 2011, co-owns and from where he curates.
But let's jump ahead before we return. 55: Music And Dance In Concrete
(Other Room Music), like much of Horvitz's oeuvre, can suggest music in search of a visual. But that's part of the appeal: his music can create images that you alone can unpack, and in all kinds of artistic ways. In this case, it's a classical game of tennis or chess, where a certain call-and- response, sonic dashes intermixed with lingering moods, the dance, are implied if not stated outright. Mooring somewhere near the musical mindset of the also recent Wish The Children Would Come On Home: The Music Of Wayne Horvitz
(Songlines) by the youngish Horvitz-spired brass quartet The Westerlies
. Released as a vinyl LP as well as digital download (with twice as much music at 68 minutes), 55
ruminates and states, using electronics, real strings and horns, a voice, and improvisations creatively inserted with musical forms that write past conventional norms of music making. Created in collaboration with choreographer/dancer Yukio Suzuki, video artist Yohei Saito and Tucker Martine (longtime producer/engineer with Horvitz), this off-kilter chamber music stands on its own as a studio-remixed creation but, obviously, was created to go with visuals. The titles are mere references points (see below) in a work that has no forward motion let alone pulse. At times haunting, hallucinogenic, other sections sound like traffic in the middle of rush hour, parts are sweet and melodic. The tentet of instrumentalists is complemented by the extra hands on deck to make for a fun, moody and clearly unconventional romp through and out of the swamp.
That same coherence is also on display with At The Reception
. Only in this case, the methods seem a little more familiar, the attitude and approach, unlike 55
, much more consistent from track to track. And, what to make of someone capable of creating and playing music all over the place? Is there any leakage from genre to genre? If you know Horvitz's catalog, it's a fascinating exercise in non-cross- pollination, like jumping from the sauna right into the pool, the immersion in wet coolness like a bodily memory swipe. Again, only in this case, it's more musical than bodily (no choreographers in sight at the Royal Room tonight).
seems more tangental than a branch, At The Reception
hosts intimates previous Horvitz musical signatures.The 14-piece Collective Music Ensemble, formed in 2012, is now, with this release a recorded entity. And, the music they play stems from material originally created for a smaller ensemble. What makes this music different has to do with the size of the aggregate, and, most importantly, Butch Morris' Conduction system, where improvising and arranging can be remade while in transit, the communication between conductor (Horvitz) and musicians conveyed through hand gestures we don't see here.
"A Walk In The Rain" suggests classic Horvitz (if such a term can be assigned), the rumpy, bumpy medium-tempo rhythm buttressing some quirky piano gestures and loads of fun-loving horn lines, the vibe sardonic, a bit twisted, the music ensconced in some kind of irresistible swing. And, a la Mingus, the tempo jumps towards song's end. "Forgiveness" offers another side, a ballad drenched in languorous horn charts. There's a lightness, a deftness that suggests something by Gil Evans. Keeping that Conduction system in mind, it's remarkable how "arranged" the music can end up sounding, the malleable, mostly bright "Daylight," full of twists and turns, turning out to be something fairly easy to follow, combining some outward-bound riffing, hefty solos (most of the 13 tunes carry multiple soloists) and varying moods. It becomes a simple motif with layers of instrumental complexity. "Trish" hearkens back to more folksy, small- group Horvitz, its waltzing cadence the perfect vehicle for some fairly melancholic, almost reverential whimsy and featuring a fulsome baritone saxophone solo from Greg Sinibaldi. That big-band thing goes by the boards with the marching band-like outburst "Barber Shop" and the more classical-sounding and arranged "Ironbound," meandering toward more examples of conducting freely in the process of inadvertently sounding altogether as one. More classical motifs emerge with a short, free-ranging "Daylight" with "Redux #2." A drifting thought: And then there's Monk.
"Side A" ends with a rightful pause, suggesting the time it might take to get up and go over to your turntable and flip the record over, which leads us into "Side B" and the wild dashing of medium-tempo swing of smartly titled "Prepaid Funeral" and more of that familiar small-group Horvitz laconicism mixed with a dash of lyricism, leavened with hearty doses of Mingus-like cacophony. "Soloing" and "comping" continue to be unwelcomed (don't trip on the way out) through more variations on a theme of Butch Morris, the climax to everything perhaps being the seemingly, alternately unwieldy but ultimately smoothly harmonic "First Light." The folk ballad "Sweeter Than The Day" perhaps transports most naturally from small group to large ensemble here, the harmonic swerves and simple, gentle pacing a lovely thing to behold, with soulful solos turned in by trombonist Willem de Koch and tenorist Skerik.
By set's end, it becomes very clear that Wayne Horvitz's music remains multifaceted and transportable, from the hinterlands of avant classical to down-home folksy charm, from small group getups to large-ensemble blowouts. All of it, not necessarily unforgettable but most likely memorable, seemingly coached along by someone untethered to form, a sponge for inspiration and recreation, a spirit unabashedly unwilling to stop. The main thing, I guess, is that there's nobody else out there I hear even attempting to cover some kind of similar range, and do it so convincingly.