It’s easy to fall into the perceptual trap that Robin Holcomb and Wayne Horvitz are a single creative entity.
They are married to each other, after all, and they work on each other’s albums often — Horvitz as producer for his wife’s singer-songwriter albums, Holcomb as singer when his projects require a voice.
But Solos marks the first time both share billing on an album, and the original idea was for each to perform the music of the other.
In piecing the album together, they decided the performances of their own pieces worked better, so the album is divded between Holcomb doing her own material, and Horvitz doing his.
And while the two make astounding music together, what is striking is just how different they are as composers and performers.
Horvitz is the more melodic and perhaps more conventional performer of the two. He gives a playful reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Armageddon”, perhaps the most straight-forward track on this album of contrasting styles.
Holcomb follows right after with the concise “The Pleasure of Motion”, in which she gets downright violent with her instrument. And in another zag to her zig, Horvitz’s “Joanna’s Solo” is simple and poignant.
Although Horvitz, who is a prolific writer, occupies most of the tracks on this album, the most expansive piece is Holcomb’s “Before the Comet Comes”, written for a theater production of the same title. Like the other pieces on her 1996 solo piano album, Little Three, “Before the Comet Comes” explores a wide dynamic range, starting out introspectively but building momentum over the course of 13 minutes.
As the album progresses, the two players start reflecting each other’s style. Horvitz admits to ripping off Holcomb’s arrangement for the traditional song, “Buttermilk Hill”, and it’s easy to mistake his playing for hers.
On “Up Do”, Holcomb sounds like Horvitz at his more whimsical, but she retains just enough grit in her performance to remind listeners who’s at the keyboard.
Personally, I prefer Holcomb’s dynamic, often abusive playing, even though Horvitz’s sense of melody does a fine job of grounding the album.
It takes a while to suss out the nuances of the two performers, given the shared credentials of both as noted improvisers. But when the differences make themselves known, Solos comes across as a striking collection of distinct styles.