Wayne Horvitz and Sweeter Than the Day - "A Moment for Andrew" (A Walk in the Dark)
When keyboardist Wayne Horvitz moved to the Pacific Northwest, his publicity seemed somehow to take a hit. This guy, who was ubiquitous in the 1980s (first with some undersung free jazz discs for Black Saint, then in Naked City, the Frisell band, Bobby Previte combos, and his own discs for Nonesuch), remained just as active but didn’t quite get the ink. Yet Horvitz’s range of activity, and the quality of his musical output, is mostly as impressive as ever. He’s been making provocative music with a core group of Seattle players along with heavy bands like his Gravitas Quartet. Sweeter Than the Day––which began as an acoustic version of his groove combo Zony Mash, and which has recorded three albums previously––features Horvitz on acoustic piano, Tim Young on guitar, Keith Lowe on bass, and Eric Eagle on drums.
The group tends to favor sweet simple melodies, focused largely on the seamless interaction between Young and Horvitz. On first listens, this album comes across (like its predecessors) as lightly grooving and nimbly swinging, with some interesting textures here and there from Young (a dash of vibrato, applied just so, or some coiling distortion). Beneath the simple exteriors, however, are all kinds of interesting details. They include angular, unpredictable progressions, punchy rhythms that seem to dart away from your understanding (“A Moment for Andrew”), and improvising that seems simple to the point of being minimalist but which is actually––owing to rests and hesitations in the phrasing––quite elliptical and interesting (just note Horvitz’s almost Bley-like introduction to “Undecided”). It’s a very winning sound.
This is not to say that the lyricism is a mere front, for this batch of tunes has some memorable melodies, especially “We Never Met” and the gorgeous “Waltz from Woman of Tokyo,” both of which recall the abstracted Americana that Horvitz and wife Robin Holcomb do so well (not least on their fine duos recording for Songlines). The excellent, understated Young is well suited to this material, a linear rather than chordal player who combines the virtues of Ribot and Shepik in different ways. And just because I tend to focus my listening on Horvitz and Young, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the limber, grooving, and tasteful work of Lowe (who has a great solo on the funky shuffle “Inference”) and Eagle. They’re key to the success of tunes like “Between the Floors” and the circuitous, grooving closer “To a Toaster,” which reveal not only the well known influence of Sonny Clark on Horvitz but also the leader’s close study of Herbie Nichols. It’s a very enjoyable disc, all in all.