Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet
The Gravitas Quartet (Wayne Horvitz, piano; Peggy Lee, cello; Ron Miles, cornet; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon) presents an interesting dichotomy on this CD. Alternating tracks switch back and forth between discontent and progressive chamber music and smoother jazzy-sounding works. The instrumentation and blend of the performers is striking and captivating and their instrumentation is inspiring to me in my own composition. Both sides of this CD (if you take my meaning) are strong and natural sounding. I feel like the “chamber music” and the “jazz” pieces are really natural parts of Horvitz’s language. Nothing sounds forced, contrived, or ill-prepared. The journey through this musical landscape is quite enticing and highly recommended.
Wayne Horvitz and Sweeter Than the Day
A Walk in the Dark
In contrast to the Gravitas disc in the above paragraph, this CD is pretty straight forward jazz. This time, Wayne Horvitz, still on the piano, is joined with Timothy Young on guitar, Keith lowe on contrabass, and Eric Eagle on drums. Each of the eleven tracks has smooth, long melodies or good forward-moving grooves. A very easy disc to listen to in either foreground or background settings. As a fun fact, several of the same tunes are presented on both discs (“Waltz from Woman of Tokyo,” “Undecided,” “We Never Met” and “A Walk in the Rain”) and there are things to enjoy about each version of these tunes. The music is strong, the compositional voice is engaging and comforting at the same time. This is a second strong release for this talented composer and pianist.
Joe Hill: 16 Actions for Orchestra, Voices and Soloist
Text by Paul Magid
New World Records
Danny Barnes, Robin Holcomb, Rinde Eckert, vocalists; Bill Frisell, soloist; Northwest Sinfonia, Christian Knapp, conductor
Wayne Horvitz flexes his cantata muscles with an 80 minute piece for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra based on the life of Joe Hill. This piece comes across as a super-sized Lincoln Portrait about organized labor. Horvitz clearly has the Americana sound and orchestration under his belt and wields it appropriately for this material. Unfortunately, not seeing this work staged left the dramatic arc to the music alone and I was not swept up in the emotional situations based solely on the strength of the music. I think that seeing this work and seeing performers show emotion would have helped me connect but musically I found the narrative trajectory lacking. The tunes are solid as are the orchestrations and harmonizations. I think that any of these “16 actions” could serve well on its own or as a set but the whole cycle is lacking in emotional direction and leads to aural overload.
So ends my review of three Wayne Horvitz discs. As a wise man once said, “two out of three ain’t bad.”