Wayne Horvitz & The Royal Collective Mus - At the Reception [Songlines - 2014]Veteran jazz pianist and composer Wayne Horvitz has returned with a new band of players called 'The Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble', and a brand new album of his sweetly melodic jazz compositions, with their generally light and upbeat tone, and flambouyant, almost cinematic expressiveness. The attitude of his music could not be further contrasted from the jaded anti-musicality and genre parody performed by Zorn's Naked City, ironically still the group for which Horvitz is most often recognized.
His style of composition hasn't changed much from the horn chorales found on 2014's "Wish the Children Would Come On Home" (performed by The Westerlies), in fact, some of the same pieces have recurred here. The strength of his music is its sincerity and soul, rather than a claim to originality or edginess, which this makes no attempt at. Horvitz has an amazing ear for lush chords, subtley complex progressions and meandering melodies which tug heartstrings from multiple angles. The emotions of his pieces are bold, and worn on the surface.
Horvitz tends to take stabs at a variety of established musical idioms within the span of an album, and "At the Reception" is no exception. My favorites are by far the more contemplative and ballad-esque tunes, which accentuate Horvitz' intelligent voice leading, and perfectly capture that feeling of bittersweet reverie, of thinking fondly of a former lover and then inevitably remembering their flaws, the pain of nostalgia and time never to be reclaimed. "Trish", in particular, makes me tear up whenever it comes to a particular chord change.
Some of the other genres attempted don't give much chance for melody, and don't come off nearly as well. "Barber Shop" is a very sarcastic sounding klezmer-inflected parade march, with a heavy-handed sense of mischief, like the soundtrack to a cartoon in which a bumbling oaf unwittingly knocks over an entire caravan of vehicles. It's so blatantly overdone and obnoxious that it sticks out like a sore thumb, and I can't help but skip it.
Other less than successful moments come with the looser, more improvisatory pieces, which often engage in meandering dissonance, stuck in a hesitant middle ground between the structured, theory driven jazz tonalities of the rest of the album and taking a genuine stab at 'out' free jazz fierceness.
This ensemble is much larger than the group of horn players that comprises The Westerlies, but as the emphasis remains on horn harmonies, the major difference is the presence of percussion. For the chorale style tracks, this doesn't make a huge difference: the chords are gently peppered with cymbal strokes, which do not intrude, but could have just as easily been left out. In the case of "Barber Shop", the larger ensemble serves to make the track a lot more raucous and annoying than the version of the same piece from "Wish the Children Would Come On Home", which I never skipped.
I have nothing by compliments for the wind and brass players in this group, who exact beautifully quavering vibratos with effortless precision, not to mention sassy and spontaneous solos, undoubtedly responsible for the album's lively, tuneful and colorful character.
Horvitz recommends you listen to the two halves, or 'sets', of the album, separately, and indeed, the album is too much music to absorb in one sitting. It took me a while to get to two of the album's best songs, "Disingenuous Firefight" and title piece "At the Reception". These songs have so many details and changes that they must be absorbed over careful, repeated listenings. It's rare to hear such truly forward thinking, detailed writing, surely on a classical level with its unbelievable intricacy, density of ideas, and concise, carefully considered expressions.
"At the Reception" is a rather bloated album, one in which I prefer to pick and choose my favorite pieces for individual listening, rather than play through. There's certainly quite a bit of wonderful music on this album, which exemplifies in every way what makes Wayne Horvitz matter to the world of music, primarily his boldly emotive and memorable head themes, and their perfectly orchestrated and full chordal accompaniment. However, there are other tracks that do not play to his strengths, and the experience of the album is rather disjointed, with anticlimactic mood shifts which make it difficult to remain engaged. The best moments of the album achieve such heights that it isn't too hard to give Horvitz the benefit of the doubt, as there is undeniable craft at work here.Josh Landry