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Wayne Horvitz: Sweeter Than the Day

Since Zony Mash first appeared in 1997 with Cold Spell (Knitting Factory) and followed with 2000’s Brand Spankin’ New (Knitting Factory), the quartet has been a vehicle for Wayne Horvitz’s more unbuttoned side on Hammond B-3 with Timothy Young’s gritty guitar, Fred Chalenor (later replaced by Keith Lowe) on bass and Andy Roth on drums. Horwitz’s earlier classics, such as Bring Yr Camera (Elektra, 1991), This New Generation (Elektra, 1985) and Miracle Mile (Nonesuch, 1991), were given over to his compositional talents: the structural unity of the piece came first and solos were added to the grand design in a way that fit the internal logic of the composer’s intentions. While this idea isn’t entirely reversed with Zony Mash, it is at least relaxed to allow the leader and Young to stretch out to explore the mood and melodic implications of the compositions at greater length. Still, while a more free flowing approach prevails with Zony Mash, the compositions Horvitz brings to the table remain as strong as ever. This is clear with American Bandstand, in essence an unplugged Zony Mash, with several melodically strong compositions indicative of the genuine craftsmanship Horvitz brings to his work.

Sweeter Than the Day is the follow-up to American Bandstand (Songlines), with Horvitz in a beguiling mood again, here more reflective than on American Bandstand, with the emphasis on melodic depth, such as “In One Time and Another” and the title track, or in a straightahead mood like “LTMBBQ.” Zony Mash’s Live in Seattle is bound to the funkier grind, however, and it’s a rewarding session, certainly the group’s best. The CD reveals the sustained and gradually unfolding delight of the group’s approach to improvisation, none better than on the 17-minute “Meet Zony Mash/Slide By.” Young is a perfect foil for Horvitz’s understatement, and on “Bad Traffic” and Pharoah Sanders’ “Upper Egypt” he is a model of intensity and economy.

Horvitz’s Four Plus One Ensemble is a concept that dates back to 1996 and presents the unusual ensemble of Eyvind Kang on violin and viola, Tucker Martine on electronic processing, Julian Priester on trombone, Reggie Watts on additional keyboards, vocals and drum machine and, on the band’s new From a Window, Skerik contributing a thoughtful baritone sax line on “Leave Here Now.” Each of the seven pieces on the CD incorporate a variety of textures, with Priester’s well-calibrated imagination fitting into the dreamlike feel of “Julian’s Ballad” or in his deliberately pondered yet lissomely steered solo on another take of “Sweeter Than the Day.” Kang and Horvitz, in their carefully nuanced work, seem to invent quotations rather than draw on real ones.

Horvitz’s wife, Robin Holcomb, suggests the jazz tradition will have to be very elastic to accommodate some of her work, but on The Big Time, with an augmented Zony Mash ensemble that includes Kang, Bill Frisell and trumpeter Dave Carter, her lumpy prose set to song is more related to mood and intention rather than tight ensemble execution. This awkwardly memorable music celebrates an individual conception that has continued to grow since her 1989 debut, Larks, They Crazy (Sound Aspects).

Originally Published