Two-Fer (a Winter Afternoon): Wayne Horvitz – “Way Out East” and “4+1 Ensemble”


I got pretty lucky with the music of Wayne Horvitz.

In the early 90’s, while browsing the stacks at Jerry’s Record Exchange, I’d discovered Horvitz’s Miracle Mile, recorded with his The President ensemble… one of a number of ensembles Horvitz has created over time.  Pretty sure the reason I picked it up in the first place was because of the presence of Bill Frisell on the recording.  It was around this time that signaled the beginning of my transition from casual jazz fan to addict.  I was scooping up everything I could find, and while my purchases were almost completely classic jazz albums from past decades, I was stumbling upon a handful of modern artists that floated my boat.  Horvitz was one of those lucky finds.

On his two The President ensemble recordings (Miracle Mile and Bring Yr Camera), Horvitz employed heavy doses of electronic effects and rock to create a sound that wasn’t quite Jazz but also quite was Jazz.  It was different from much of anything else I was hearing.  What most grabbed my ear, though, wasn’t the fission-like burn of guitar or the careening keyboard lines or the tempests of dissonance, but how Horvitz would draw sonorous sections of music out from the chaos so subtly, so casually, as if they were a natural byproduct of the music fury that dominated the albums.  I found it quite beautiful.  My ear waited for those moments.

Since that first lucky purchase, I’ve been following Horvitz’s career.  Over the span of a couple decades, he’s formed many different ensembles and his music has taken the shape of many different sounds.  One day, I’ll likely write a huge article that covers most (or all) of his recordings.  Today, I’m going to write about two albums that are a perfect fit as the snow falls outside on a January afternoon.

Let’s begin…


Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet – Way Out East

Wayne Horvitz - "Way Out East"Wayne Horvitz created two Gravitas Quartet albums, the companion pieces Way Out East and One Dance Alone, and found just about the most compelling mix of Jazz and Classical music I’ve ever heard.  Centerpiece is the trumpet of Ron Miles, whose sound is a pure distillation of heartbreak.  Even when he’s turning up the temperature, Miles’s sound has a quavering vulnerability that makes each note that emits from his trumpet sound honest and sincere.  In a chamber jazz setting like on Way Out East, he’s given plenty of room to express those sentiments.  With Lee’s cello and Schoenbeck’s bassoon adding lovely moodiness to Horvitz’s compositional template, the quartet glides through a series of thoughtful expressions and delicate sentiments.

Some tracks, like “Ladies and Gentleman” and “A remembrance…” bubble with avant-garde bassoon gurgles, pensive trumpet sighs, sharp cello lines, and twittering piano notes.  Others, like “Way Out East” and “Berlin 1914” have a slow meander as serene as a walk in the park and as a warm as a fireplace on a winter afternoon.  But most, like album-opener “LB” include both of those approaches, and effect an intoxicating contrast of beauty and scar, of fresh pure snow and  sharp glistening ice.

Perfect for a day watching the Winter season cast its magic over a view from a window.

Your album personnel:  Wayne Horvitz (piano), Ron Miles (trumpet), Peggy Lee (cello), and Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon).

Released in 2006 on the Songlines label.

Download two free tracks from the companion Gravitas Quartet album One Dance Alone on Horvitz’s site.

Available at:  Amazon | eMusic


Wayne Horvitz – 4 + 1 Ensemble

Wayne Horvitz - "4+1 Ensemble"While, it’s true, that Wayne Horvitz’s 4+1 Ensemble and his Gravitas Quartet recordings both could get categorized in the Chamber Jazz subgenre, the albums have very different presences.  Whereas the Gravitas Quartet toed a line of elegance and austerity, the 4+1 Ensemble shades more toward quirky dissonance and whimsical flashes of beauty more in common with Horvitz’s The President ensemble recordings.

On 4+1 Ensemble, electronics get added to the mix, both via the double-up of piano and keyboards between Horvitz and Watts, but also with the producer’s touch of Tucker Martine (who has lent his constructive use of electronics on several albums of note, including the Floratone recording reviewed on BitW).  Kang’s violin brings the strings element not dissimilar in effect to Lee’s cello on Way Out East, and Priester’s trombone walks a middle line between Miles’s trumpet and Schoenbeck’s bassoon.  And, yet, it sounds so different.

Your album personnel: Wayne Horvitz (piano, amplified piano, electronics), Reggie Watts (keyboards), Eyvind Kang (violin), Julian Priester (trombone), and Tucker Martine (electronics).

Opening track “Step Aside” is, perhaps, the best example of this recording’s differentiation and similarities to other Horvitz albums.  The amicable chatter of electronics clashes with that of strings in between united statements of a simple pretty melody, while trombone throws some punchy notes, sometimes in defense of keys, sometimes as harmony to violin.

Tracks like “Up All Night” evoke the elegance of the Gravitas Quartet recordings by creating an ambient drone counteracted by spry piano lines, whereas “Trouble” embraces a similar jumbled interplay, though presenting it with a whimsical touch.  The compelling “AFAP” begins as violent cross-currents of notes that suddenly coalesce into a droning swell of harmony… it doesn’t really sound like anything on the Gravitas Quartet recordings, but it possesses the same graceful touch.

Tracks “Colder/Snake Eyes” and “Exit Laughing” is reminiscent of the folksy electronica of Horvitz’s The President ensemble recordings, with a pulsing tempo, an electric buzz of effects, and rustic percussion.  Subsequent track “Take Me Home” is a slow lovely tune featuring heartbreakingly delicate harmonies between trombone, piano, and violin, and really exemplifies one of this recording’s primary strengths… the ebb and flow of one track to the next, evincing a captivating series of emotional shifts that leaves this album being much more than a collection of tunes, but instead a paradigm of creative shadings and brush strokes that, often, is quite breathtaking to experience.

Released in 1998 on the Intuition Music label.

Download a free album track at Horvitz’s site.

Available at:  Amazon