Jazz CD Reviews

Wayne Horvitz and Sweeter Than the Day – A Walk in the Dark

A great band laboring mostly in obscurity

Published on July 25, 2008

Wayne Horvitz and Sweeter Than the Day – A Walk in the Dark
Wayne Horvitz and Sweeter Than the Day – A Walk in the Dark – No label or number, 60:28 *****:

(Wayne Horvitz – piano; Timothy Young – guitar; Keith Lowe – counterbass; Eric Eagle – drums)

They’re so unknown that their latest disc (their fourth) is self-released.  And it’s a very attractive package, mostly browns and shades of sepia with old-timey color photos from the Library of Congress.  But don’t be fooled.  This is no cobbled-together, Pacific Northwest, Rube Goldberg garage band.  Instead, it’s some of the most elegant, highly developed, advanced music you’ll ever encounter.  What is it?  Chamber jazz with New Music overtones, if one had to put a name to it.  Seemingly simple, it has a depth and weight seldom found in popular music idioms.   This gravitas comes from a near-telepathic interaction among the players, great but understated soloing, and compositions that, though operating in recognizable genres (blues, ballads, Erik Satie-like numbers), regularly expand forms even as they deconstruct and retrieve their constituent elements.

And though Horvitz as leader, composer, and lodestar is the genius behind all this quiet mayhem, the band absolutely gets the sensibility he lays down.  Guitarist Young deserves special mention.  Equally adept at casually unleashing stealth-killer solos and deftly doubling complex piano figures (which he regularly accomplishes throughout the disc but especially on “To a Toaster,” “A Walk in the Dark,” and “A Walk in the Rain”), providing subtle atmospherics (“Good Shepherd” and “Waltz from Woman of Tokyo”), and evoking weirdly apposite chord voicings linked to his own unique, highly advanced harmonic concept (“A Moment for Andrew” and  “We Never Met”), Young almost steals the show—and would, were it not for the strength of playing of his band mates.  Newcomer on drums Eric Eagle contributes his own understated magic.  A tasty not busy drummer, he always seems to find the exact groove to propel the proceedings to their highest height.  Bassist Lowe makes his instrument do things I’ve never heard before but always within the context of the established vibe.  Besides that, he takes one of the most interesting bass solos I’ve ever heard on “Inference.”  Horvitz displays a deep refined roadhouse blooziness on several numbers (especially “A Walk in the Rain,” “The 29th Day of May” and “Inference”), while spinning out delicious calliope-like lilting figures on others (“Undecided”).  In fact, this band, though not really resembling the Claudia Quintet, manages to wring almost an equally broad range of noises and moods from its instruments.

A note on the sound.  Produced by No One in Particular (according to the album notes), this disc nevertheless has the unmistakable handiwork of sound engineer and live electronics genius Tucker Martine all over it.  The result: crystalline clarity and imaging, with each instrument perfectly balanced and expertly situated in the sonic figure.

One more thing.  This music is the opposite of flashy.  Don’t expect to be blown away by pyrotechnics or guitar heroics, overheated pianisms or smash-mouth drumming.  It took me about three listenings to fully get on board with the quiet intensity that suffuses this altogether remarkable recording.   So far, this is my disc of 2008!

Tracklist:
A Walk in the Dark, A Moment for Andrew, We Never Met, A Walk in the Rain, Undecided, Between the Floors, Waltz from the Woman of Tokyo, The 29th Day of May, Inference, Good Shepherd, To a Toaster

- Jan P. Dennis
 




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