Whispers, Hymns And A Murmur / Way Out East

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet
Way Out East

Wayne Horvitz
Whispers, Hymns And A Murmur

Guitarist Bill Frisell lost some fans, but gained many more, with his much ballyhooed departure from New York and the decibel level the city represents. Most of that reaction was based not on Frisell's own work in the '80s and '90s, but on his association with John Zorn, and in particular the all-time downtown supergroup, Naked City.

Somehow, Naked City keyboardist Wayne Horvitz has escaped such scrutiny, despite the fact that he too moved out west and got all quiet. While his own Zony Mash more than get their groove on, they're hardly in the attack league of Naked City, or even Horvitz's own contemporaneous band The President. In recent years, Horvitz has gone softer still, pitching himself as a chamber composer for jazz ensembles.

Of two recent projects showcasing Horvitz's new, composition-oriented approach, Way Out East is the more successful. That may simply be because it features a mixed ensemble, something Horvitz has more experience of than the string quartet he writes for on the other disc. The Gravitas Quartet features the unusual instrumentation of cello (Peggy Lee), trumpet (Ron Miles), bassoon (Sara Schoenbeck) and Horvitz on piano and electronics.

Way Out East is at times reminiscent of Frisell's quartet of the late '90s (of which Miles was also a member). It's a moody, melancholic set of eleven compositions with room for solos—but never solos that overwhelm the music. The performance focuses primarily on Horvitz's compositions and arrangements, rather than presenting serial opportunities for individual musicians to shine.

Whispers, Hymns And A Murmur is of a more strictly classical bent, scored for the Koehne Quartet with guest soloist Eyvind Kang, and with Horvitz doing electronic processing. It's also a more conceptual affair, with parts based on a Harold Pinter play, labor organizer Joe Hill, and the songs of the Industrial Workers of the World union of the early 20th century.

As on Way Out East, the electronics (for better or worse) barely seep through the mix. But the concept doesn't quite seep through either. There's nothing in the scoring that evokes late-night meetings, labor strikes or commie-baiting and, unfortunately, not much evoking anything else either. It's an oddly romantic yet stiflingly monotone set, with short movements from three longer works shuffled and scattered about. Altogether a little too sterile.

Considered together, these two discs suggest there's a pretty large gap between composing for a small improvising group and writing/arranging for a string quartet. Or perhaps the Gravitas set just finds Horvitz coming more from the heart. Whatever the case, the albums show that, more than a decade after leaving New York for Seattle, Horvitz is still challenging himself and still has the ability, on occasion, to follow through.

Tracks and Personnel

Way Out East

Tracks: LB; Way Out East; A Remembrance...An Afterthought...What Could Have Been A Waltz; Between Here And Heaven; Berlin 1914; Ladies And Gentleman; Reveille; You Were Just Here; Our Brief Duet; One Morten; World Peace And Quiet.

Personnel: Wayne Horvitz: piano, electronics; Peggy lee: cello; Ron Miles: trumpet; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon.

Whispers, Hymns And A Murmur

Tracks: Mountain Language IV; Mountain Language III; Whispers, Hymns And A Murmur/I. Hymn I; Whispers, Hymns And A Murmur/II. Whispers I; Whispers, Hymns And A Murmur/III. Hymn II; Whispers, Hymns And A Murmur/IV. Whispers II; Whispers, Hymns And A Murmur/V. A Murmer; Mountain Language

Personnel: Koehne Quartet: Joanna Lewis: first violin; Anne Harvey-Nagl: second violin; Petra Ackermann: viola; Melissa Coleman: cello; Eyvind Kang: viola (guest soloist); Wayne Horvitz: electronic processing.

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