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Wayne Horvitz - Way Out East

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Artist: Wayne Horvitz

Album: Way Out East

Label: Songlines

Review date: Sep. 10, 2006

Who knows if there’s anything to the apparent pun on the old Sonny Rollins album title? Keyboardist Wayne Horvitz might not be above such a playful move; after all, in his long career as an improviser and composer, he’s become well known for his daring raids on canons, catalogs, and idioms far flung. But just listen to this intense, brooding, chamber music and you’ll note quickly that we’re miles from Newk and Naked City alike.

Horvitz (here sticking with piano and electronics) has written an exquisite set of pieces for his Gravitas Quartet, where he’s joined by cellist Peggy Lee, trumpeter Ron Miles, and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. With occasional whispers of Americana (of the sort you might hear in compositions by Horvitz’s wife, Robin Holcomb), these are somber and slow-moving pieces, where the leader’s piano drops into chamber settings like icicles from an eave, occasionally flashing with the possibility of erupting in a quick polytonal run but usually keep such heat under the lid. To my ears, he often sounds like he’s channeling Satie via Anthony Davis or something – in other words, his playing is wonderful. Lee’s melancholy personality is one of my favorite on the instrument, and her sensibility blends really well with Miles’ more open, more robust lyricism (he’s the perfect trumpeter for such a setting – check out his own recordings on Sterling Circle if you’re in doubt). And Schoenbeck rounds out the tone field perfectly, making a cumbersome instrument supple, coaxing its round dark tones out beautifully.

They are, in other words, a distinctive and resourceful group, able to interpret and bring to life the wide-ranging program Horvitz has composed. The pieces contain enough finely wrought (and often quite memorable) themes to create a lasting impression and to focus the playing. Hear some memorable grooves and Ellingtonian swagger on “Berlin 1914” and “You Were Just Here.” But there are abundant moments for both collective improvisation and for mini-concerti. “A Remembrance . . . An Afterthought . . . What Could Have Been a Waltz,” for example, is the most impressionistic piece, seemingly focused on different iterations of the single chord explored at the opening. Elsewhere, different elements of freedom are explored, as in the spiky intensity of “Ladies and Gentlemen” or the tasteful electronic drones incorporated into “Between Here and Heaven.”

The disc is just filled with lovely harmonies and sinuous melody lines that float down like the soft snow on the record’s cover. There may not be a whole lot of jazz per se (although Miles certainly works it on the title track), but I can’t imagine that this wonderful improvised music will disappoint many listeners.

By Jason Bivins

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