Wayne Horvitz Is Jazzed!

Who needs a rhythm section when your players are this good?

In the late '70s, when pianist/keyboardist Wayne Horvitz moved to New York City, he and his wife, Robin Holcomb, and three other musicians rented a rehearsal space on Morton Street in Greenwich Village. There was a big sign outside the basement space that read "Call Henry," which prompted the group to dub the place Studio Henry. Horvitz and his crew later changed the name to One Morton as a nod to the actual address; neither designation, however, gave the slightest clue as to the giant talents who passed through the studio's doors.

"People like John Zorn, Bill Laswell, Billy Bang and Eugene Chadbourne," Horvitz recalls. "All these people on the downtown improvised-free-jazz music scene were all saying, 'Hey, can we just do a gig there?' And before we knew it, for about three years, it kind of became this performance space. A lot of Zorn's early Game Pieces were performed there. If you talk to anyone who was around at that time, everybody knows about that place."

The spot was also the inspiration for the song "One Morton," from Horvitz's latest album, Way Out East. The disc was recorded with his Gravitas Quartet project, which includes Denver-based trumpeter Ron Miles, cellist Peggy Lee and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. Horvitz says he chose this particular instrumentation because he wanted a chamber ensemble without a rhythm section.

Wayne Horvitz is jazzed with his Gravitas lineup.
Nenad Stevanovic
Wayne Horvitz is jazzed with his Gravitas lineup.

"They both play typical roles with the piano," he says of the cello and bassoon, "in that they can be lead instruments, but they can also be more accompanying instruments just because of their range — which isn't to say the trumpet can't also be that. The cello and bassoon can cover a lot of low end, as well."

Listening to Way Out East, it's easy to see why Horvitz chose these musicians. Together they create sublime chamber music, each infusing the songs with exquisite improvisations, especially on tracks such as "LB," a song inspired by Leonard Bernstein. Horvitz says the first notes reminded him of a ballad from the West Side Story album, something he admits to having been obsessed with as a kid.

"My parents were going to either break the record in half or shoot me," he recalls. "I played it every day for a year when I was like ten or eleven — or maybe even eight or nine, I'm not sure. As much as I've always respected Leonard Bernstein on all levels, that, to me, stands up as not only his greatest work, but one of the great pieces of mid-century American music."

 
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