May 18, 2024

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CD review: Wayne Horvitz – The Snowghost Sessions: Video

In the spring of 2015 Wayne Horvitz, with longtime Seattle collaborators Eric Eagle and Geoff Harper, spent a most of a week in residence at SnowGhost Studios in Whitefish, Montana. SnowGhost is a state-of-the-art 21st century studio with great acoustic spaces, and a meticulously maintained Steinway B grand piano.

Owner Brett Allen, who has a keen interest in experimental music, engineered the sessions. In exchange, at the end of the residency the trio gave an intimate private concert for Allen’s invitedguests, a group of audiophile engineers and developers.

The Snowghost Sessions is Horvitz’s first trio record since the 1980s, and his first piano/keys-bass-drums record ever. Wayne describes the working vibe: “I’ve never felt so free of expectations in the recording studio in my life. Whitefish is a quiet town in a beautiful place, and it’s easy to focus and leave the outside world behind. The sessions were relaxed, creative, and without a specific goal. We didn’t set out to make a record, we just set out to enjoy the process. I brought in a pile of tunes and sketches, ncluding some chamber pieces from my installation 55: Music and Dance in Concrete, and we started making music. The only thing I knew was, I wanted to work with Eric and Geoff, and I wanted find an organic marriage between the idea of a piano trio and some ideas I’d been exploring with amplified and processed piano.”

“It was one of those moments when you have a good musical feeling that leads to realizing these are people you want to get to know better, and dig a little deeper. We had played all sorts of gigs over the years, and Eric had played a lot of my music. I think everyone was excited to go in without a lot of plans, and even though they were my tunes, we really collaborated on the process. It’s a nice thing to not be beholden to a fixed outcome for a project. I wasn’t even sure it was something that would ever see the light of day, but when I heard the rough mixes I knew I had something. As for trios – I like trio formats – but mostly I have had trios that were collectives. The piano trio, in the jazz sense of that term, is daunting, there is such a history, and even as a leader I always approach things as a composer and a collaborator, and the traditional piano trio puts one in the position of “principal soloist,” which isn’t the part of music I am most excited about.”

Most tracks are live, including the processing, with minimal overdubs; a few pieces involve multiple keyboards. “I also used my lap-top, triggering samples mostly from the 55 project….For the electronics I just used old school pedals. Sometimes when I do live shows I use a MAX MSP patch, less stuff to carry around, but I like the immediacy of pedals with knobs, stuff I have been using for years. 8 second delay, a tremolo pedal I love, a memory man, just garden variety stomp boxes …

Since electronics were involved it did leave a lot of options for how to mix. For example: do we keep the drums ‘natural’ or try to do something interesting with them in the mix.” Some of the tunes do have an almost ambient feel, while others take the music into avant-jazz territory, but it’s mainly a subtle record of grace and beauty (Horvitz calls it “textural and contemplative”) – one that repays close listening.

1. The Pauls 04:45
2. No Blood Relation #1 04:14
3. Trish 03:31
4. IMB 02:30
5. Apart from You #1 02:40
6. Northampton 04:12
7. For James Tenney 03:37
8. No Blood Relation #2 02:46
9. Flies on Friday 01:19
10. The Trees 03:24
11. Yukio and Nao’s Duet 04:58
12. 55 6 (21) Variations 02:41
13. 55 6 (7) Variations 03:03
14. Apart from You #2 03:49
15. American Bandstand (bonus track) 04:15

Wayne Horvitz, piano, amplified piano, live processing, Wurlitzer electric piano, Hammond B-3, Nord Lead, TX-7, Mellotron
Geoff Harper, contrabass
Eric Eagle, drums, percussion

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