Hidden depths

(Ed. note: The text for the reviews of Wayne Horvitz’s Upper Egypt and American Bandstand have been paired.)

After fronting such sonically riveting ensembles as the President, Pigpen and 4+1 Ensemble, Wayne Horvitz seems to have made a decidedly unadventurous move with Zony Mash.

I mean, c’mon — it’s a jam band! That’s what Medeski, Martin and Wood are for.

Recording studios can only capture so much of a live performance, and as such, listeners can’t escape the feeling that a group like Zony Mash and music from the band’s latest disc Upper Egypt would be best experienced in a concert hall or club.

But under Horvitz’s leadership, even something as straight-forward as Zony Mash has its moments of strange beauty. Horvitz is a master of hooks, and in between extended moments of virtuosity, that talent always comes back to grab hold.

“Forever” centers around a quiet but busy melody that’s just plain beautiful. “End of Time” sprinkles in a dischordant harmony here and there for an unsettling effect.

On faster tracks such as “Spice Rack” and “FYI,” seemingly convoluted melodies give way to memorable gestures — a big major chord here or a simple response to a complicated call.

As always, Horvitz is a skilled improviser, making the most random solos sound completely like fate — just as any great jazz musician can do. With rhythm section Andy Roth (drums) and Keith Lowe (bass) grounding Horvitz and guitarist Timothy Young, the composite result is a lot more than the surface initially reveals.

In attempting to form a band to record a “piano album,” Horvitz made the discovery that the fire-brand chemistry of Zony Mash works in an intimate setting as well.

Unlike rock bands who make a big deal out of recording two albums at one time, Horvitz’s multiple releases in a single year is par for the proverbial course. So too with American Bandstand, a Zony Mash album that isn’t Zony Mash.

Horvitz’s piano playing strips away any timbral cloudiness he usually introduces into his music, and without them, he sounds almost traditional in the way his melodies twist and turn.

On some level, the music becomes a bit less interesting, but at the same, time, it forces listeners to recognize the human elements inherent in Horvitz’s work.