The Wayne Horvitz European Orchestra: Live at the Bimhuis (Novara Jazz Series)

A review of the first formal recording from the keyboardist/composer's new 12-piece big band

Wayne Horvitz European Orchestra, Live at the Bimhuis
The cover of Live at the Bimhuis by the Wayne Horvitz European Orchestra.

It might come off as arrogant for most artists to include the audience’s gasps and inarticulable praise at the end of the first track of their new live album. But most artists are not Wayne Horvitz, the Seattle-based keyboardist and composer who made his name on the downtown scene with John Zorn in the 1980s. The inclusion of several exclamations and thunderous applause at the conclusion of “Prepaid Funeral,” a momentous number that shakes the ceiling of Amsterdam’s Bimhuis like a giant’s footsteps, serves to underline the towering presence of Horvitz’s European Orchestra and the scope of the music it makes.

Live at the Bimhuis, the first formal recording of Horvitz’s new 12-piece big band—an across-the-pond version of the Seattle-oriented Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble—captures the outfit performing as part of the Bimhuis’ 40th-anniversary series in 2014. That night was only the group’s fourth gig, but here it sounds as vibrant and cohesive as if it were celebrating some milestone year.

The record’s eight tracks blend atonal exploration and more traditional big-band structures. “Daylight” is another composition that, like “Prepaid Funeral,” inspires awe in just how titanic the band sounds; booming harmonies propel the group through grandiose space opera mixed with free jazz, more European concert hall than Sun Ra. “Trish” sees Horvitz and the orchestra oscillate between balladry and bombast, while the more melodic passages of “First Light” sink into strands of shadow, whispering hidden plots. To top it off, humor abounds on Live at the Bimhuis. On “Disingenuous Firefight” and the Mingus-esque “A Walk in the Rain,” the horns swing with cheek, adding a touch of absurdist comedy that shows you how much fun this is for all involved.

Jackson Sinnenberg

Jackson Sinnenberg is a broadcast journalist and writer based in Washington, D.C. He serves as an editor for Capitalbop, a non-profit that focuses on presenting live jazz and covering the D.C. jazz scene through grassroots journalism. He’s covered the city’s local jazz scene since 2015 but has covered national and international jazz, rock and pop artists for a variety of publications. He will gladly argue why Kendrick Lamar is a jazz musician. Follow him @sinnenbergmusic.