(Wayne Horvitz, piano; Peggy Lee, cello; Ron Miles, cornet; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon)
Many of the Songlines SACDs are just a bit past the personal tastes of myself and all my reviewers on staff. That doesn’t mean they might not have a strong appeal to a certain type of collector. This one, however, immediately caught my ear with the second track – A Walk in the Rain – and I quickly copied the CD version of that track to my iTunes library. At first I felt all the other tracks just wandered a bit too far from melody and tonal centers to interest me – although the spatiality and realistic presence of each of the four acoustic instruments is uncanny in my surround setup.
About the third repetition of the disc – this time on my office system using just the CD layer for playback – things began to jell and I really enjoyed the entire disc – even without the convincing immersion of the hi-res surround layout in front of my home system. The Gravitas Quartet plays in a sort of chamber version of what used to be called the Third Stream. There is no rhythm section, and no lead saxophone or trumpet. Horvitz speaks about the quartet’s combining of jazz and classical elements, and that “The instrumentation lends itself to writing without regard to a rhythm section mentality, and it encourages certain ambitions and desires I have as a composer.” He also says that he feels a strong pull to the past in music, and that as much as he has been inspired by innovative, experimental and avant-garde music “I would have to say that the best of that music has always been the result of some kind of deep integration of what has come before with a new vision of what can be.”
Among my other favorite tracks of the 11 were the Waltz from what seems to be a soundtrack score: Women of Tokyo, and the title tune, which is a short quiet and lyrical statement. As a whole the album is an adventurous statement from a leading pianist and composer in the alternative jazz area, and shows how a seemingly classically-oriented chamber ensemble can blend in the jazz and blues elements of creative improvisation and come up with new expressive possibilities without resorting to strictures like sonata form or big band swing either. Frankly, I seldom liked the drum set in jazz anyway, even with musically tasteful drummers such as Connie Kay or Chico Hamilton. The cover and booklet photo is a lovely shot of Prague – unexplained since the recording and mastering venue was in Seattle – but probably tied in with the quartet’s concert appearances in Europe. (A previous Horvitz SACD had a similar view of Prague, but with snow.)
TrackList: July 11, A Walk in the Rain, July III, A Fond Farewell, July 1, The Way Your Name, Waltz from Woman of Tokyo, One Dance Alone, Good Shepherd, We Never Met?, Undecided
– John Sunier