Wayne Horvitz: Sweeter Than the Day
Songlines SGL SA1536-5
"Sweeter Than the Day"
Wayne Horvitz (pianos)
Timothy Young (guitars)
Keith Lowe (bass)
Andy Roth (drums)
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Review by Mark Werlin - February 8, 2024
A luminous recording of eclectic and distinctive chamber jazz from a master of the genre.
Wayne Horvitz’ releases on the Songlines label span more than 20 years and a wide range of ensembles, from his duo with bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck to the 14-piece Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble. The quartet on “Sweeter Than The Day” is unique in his catalogue: piano, 6- and 12-string electric guitar, acoustic bass, and drums.
What makes this music eclectic is the scope of Horvitz’ influences. The compositions swing, groove to the blues, settle into cool, and channel French impressionism. What makes the album compelling is the skillful confidence with which he draws those influences together into a distinctive and recognizable group sound. The tunes don’t so much shift from one idiom to another as weave the different sounds into a holistic presentation.
In the opening track, “in One Time and another” echoes of Ravel in the solo piano intro bounce off the walls of Horvitz’ imagination and turn a corner into atmospheric post-bop jazz. The chiming tones of the electric 12-string color the melancholy “Julian’s Ballad”. Guitarist Timothy Young’s solo begins with an evocation of the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn then shifts into a bluesy vein. “LTMBBQ”, a cool-shaded outing, gives Horvitz space to open out into freer territory, grounded by bassist Keith Lowe’s steady, harmonically inventive 4/4 lines and drummer Andy Roth’s subtle timekeeping and brushwork.
The introspective tone of the album was a step outside the band’s original direction. For several years, Horvitz, Young, Lowe and Roth had been performing and recording as an electric band called Zony Mash. Alongside the funkier, rocking pieces on their 1999 release “Upper Egypt” is a quiet one called “The End of Time” and a rootsy American tune, “Forever”. The more inward-looking pieces by the electric band point to its acoustic incarnation on “Sweeter Than The Day”. The band has enjoyed great longevity, and continues to perform in Horvitz’ home state of Washington.
Beyond the musical virtues, the recording is notable for its technical accomplishment. Engineered and mixed by Tucker Martine at Litho, Seattle, Washington in January 2001, and mastered by Dawn Frank at Sony and David Glasser at Airshow, Boulder, Colorado, it was the first multichannel SACD release by Songlines, a farsighted choice by label chief and audiophile Tony Reif. The elegant simplicity of the mix, with guitar placed mid-left, piano mid-right, bass center, drums center and naturally spread, and the drum kit set back in the soundstage, recreates a live performance with transparent realism.
Among Wayne Horvitz’ many accomplishments as a composer, bandleader, collaborator with new music luminaries John Zorn, Bill Frisell and Butch Morris, his Songlines albums stand out as milestones on a long and artistically successful musical journey.
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