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.