A highly individual (and extremely meticulous) composer and keyboard
player, Wayne Horvitz became visible in the mid-80s for being a part of the
(so-called) New York "Downtown Scene", where musicians like John
Zorn, Bill Laswell, Bobby Previte, Elliott Sharp, Butch Morris and Fred Frith
worked. Horvitz has worked with some of them many times, just like he did
with guitar player Bill Frisell and with pianist, composer and singer Robin
Horvitz is a keyboard player whose style is quite easy to recognize,
from the classic Hammond B-3 organ to the Fender Rhodes, from Yamaha's DX7
(a keyboard that's quite difficult to program, he was maybe the only one along
with Don Preston to get from this instrument a timbre that was unmistakably
his) to the Clavia Nord Lead synthesizer, which is extensively featured in
this live recording but is strangely uncredited on the cover (its shape and
red colour are quite easy to spot in the cover pictures). Horvitz is also
a very personal composer, his melodies - never abrasive, never really difficult
- hide a high degree of sophistication.
I got to know Horvitz thanks to the precious source of information
that during the eighties was the (New York) New Music Distribution Service
catalogue. Quite a few of those albums are still very good, so among those
still available I'll mention the electric panorama of Dinner At Eight (1986)
and the homage "in the tradition" (but never tired or scholastic)
titled Voodoo (1986), released under the name Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet.
And if it's true that it was only in time that Horvitz's personality was revealed,
it's also true that these two very different albums cover a lot of territory
Horvitz is also a versatile sideman - check his many collaborations
with saxophone player John Zorn, starting with the Naked City CDs.
There could be many more albums I could mention, for instance Todos
Santos (1988) - the album released under Horvitz/Morris/Previte which presented
Robin Holcomb's compositions - or the two albums released by the collective
name of New York Composers' Orchestra: the first, of the same name, (1990),
where a fantastic version of Fever - in parts reminiscent of Grand Wazoo -
showed how good Horvitz was as an arranger; and First Program In Standard
I have to confess that at the start of the 90s I had some commercial
hopes for Horvitz, though I knew that his being somewhat "mild"
would have been an obstacle in a world where stronger, even truculent, colours
are rewarded. So I was glad for the Elektra record contract that made it possible
the release of two President albums - Bring Yr Camera (1989) and the maybe
superior Miracle Mile (1992) - and the first song album of the same name by
Robin Holcomb (1990), where Horvitz played and which he produced. Those albums
fully revealed other aspects of his musical personality (logically enough,
given his age), where his love for the jazz avant-garde (of all ages) went
hand-in-hand with his love for electric Miles, early Weather Report, Grateful
Dead, The Band and those concerts at The Fillmore (it's useful reflecting
on the similarities between some "psychedelic" pages by Horvitz
and some pages by Henry Kaiser - among them, his homage titled Yo! Miles).
No nostalgia, by the way.
Horvitz left New York for Seattle, a place where theatre and ballet
offer the possibility to avoid musical compromises. Which doesn't mean this
is Horvitz's main occupation! In fact, he has started line-ups such as Zony
Mash, Pigpen, 4+1 Ensemble, Ponga, Sweeter Than The Day, besides collaborating
with Robin Holcomb. (I'd like to mention his production of Highspotparadox,
by Hughscore, from 1997.)
Zony Mash is his electric quartet (the group got its name from a
song by The Meters). Three studio albums: Cold Spell (1997), Brand Spankin'
New (1998) and Upper Egypt (2000) - I'd say the most recent one is a good
introduction - and a live one, titled Live In Seattle (2002). An agile line-up
where guitar, bass and drums are added to the leader's keyboards. A line-up
that maybe is at its best in a live situation. Farewell Concerts presents
the last two concerts by the group - Seattle, 12 and 13 December, 2003. Nicely
recorded, 2h. 40' long, not expensive, this sets makes you forgive the fact
that there are no liner notes! (You can find them on Horvitz's website - they're
The music is agile, very entertaining and more various than what
is apparent at first, though I have to confess that I have to disagree with
Horvitz when he says "I think Zony Mash is the logical extension of The
President, which is what I was doing 10 or 15 years ago", the previous
line-up being more ambitious (in my opinion the real problem being what is
Two themes by Zorn (Sex Fiend and Triggerfingers), a few by guitar
player Tim Young round up the picture. FYI is a good introduction, the following
track, Diggin Bones by Young, already shows very interesting things, quite
different from a "jam-band" format. (I've read Horvitz saying he
doesn't like the term "fusion" being used when referring to this
group, but I think there's nothing to fear, since the few times when I could
use this term - say, a propos of the track Rip Off - it's "fusion"
of the Carla Bley's extroverted Dinner Music variety, so...) Easy offers a
beautiful and delicate performance, Let's Get Mashed is typically angular,
Smiles is a nice detour in different climates, The Last Song features a nice
synth solo, I'm Sorry deals with the blues.
The second CD doesn't start so brilliantly, the Zony Mash/Slide By
medley being a bit too hesitant (the album mirrors the real dynamics of a
real concert, down to those instances where the playing doesn't gel), then
we get the funk of Rip Off and the track Capricious Midnight from the Sweeter
Than The Day repertory. Here the CD lifts off, with the eighteen minutes of
the Beatles-flavoured Prudence RSVP, which is followed by Brand Spankin' New
and Spice Rack, the extrovert concert conclusion.
The rhythm section - Andy Roth on drums, Keith Lowe on electric and
acoustic bass - is quite good. My only criticism of this otherwise excellent
album is that the real transcendental moments - those that Phish seem to produce
with a certain regularity - are few. But this would be a very complex line
of reasoning. Maybe next time.
Beppe Colli 2004
| May 9, 2004