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The Gig: Meet the Westerlies

An exceptional debut devoted to the music of Wayne Horvitz

Nate Chinen
The Westerlies

One of the more remarkable albums to cross my path this spring is Wish the Children Would Come on Home (Songlines), a supremely assured debut by the Westerlies, whom you should really get to know. A repertory album devoted to the music of Wayne Horvitz-the astute pianist and composer who helped define New York’s downtown scene of the 1980s before he decamped to Seattle-it grabs the ear with a warm yet austere arrangement of timbres. The Westerlies, it so happens, is a brass quartet: Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpets, and Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombones. They grew up in Seattle, counting Horvitz among their mentors, and headed to New York for further training, at either the Manhattan School of Music or Juilliard. Two have since completed their studies; the other two are set to graduate next year.

My experience with these musicians falls slightly outside the usual critical purview, in that I first encountered them as seniors in high school. Four years ago, gathering intel for a story about the booming jazz ecosystem in Seattle, I paid visits to a pair of public schools there that tend to dominate Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition. I also stopped by Café Racer, a boho coffeehouse in the city’s University District, where I heard a disarmingly smart 10-piece band featuring students from both schools. This was the Split Stream Big Band, led by Andy Clausen, with Mulherkar and de Koch in the ranks. I was impressed enough-by the quality of Clausen’s writing, the vibrant clarity of the execution, and the initiative of all parties involved-to use that moment as a curtain-raiser for my piece, which ran in the New York Times. Of course it didn’t hurt that Mulherkar and Clausen each won awards of distinction at that year’s Essentially Ellington competition, or that Garfield High, the alma mater of every Westerly but Clausen, took first prize.

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