Pop music writers who fawn over Stephin Merritt’s various ensembles probably never had to keep track of Wayne Horvitz.
Horvitz has formed a “grunge jazz band” (Pigpen), a big band (New York Composers Orchestra) and a jam band (Zony Mash), as well as participated in a drum ‘n’ bass group (Ponga) and John Zorn’s punk jazz band (Naked City).
Horvitz’s 4+1 Ensemble is something akin to the Bill Frisell Quartet from some years back — a rhythm section-less group consisting of some off-kilter but ultimately sublime timbres.
4+1 Ensemble pits two very warm instruments — Evynd Kang’s violin and Julian Priester’s trombone — against an array of electronics, drum programming and keyboards helmed by Horvitz, Tucker Martine and Reggie Watts.
All that machinery could have resulted in something cold and synthetic, but From the Window sports some of the most introspective and organic performances from any of Horvitz’s ensmebles.
When Watts sings a soulful improvisation over the minimal arrangement of “Sweeter Than the Day”, it feels totally human.
The restrained drum beat on “Julian’s Ballad” allows 4+1 to improvise like a jam band in slow motion.
“People Just Float” is pretty self-descriptive — Horvitz and crew layer one dissonant set improvisation on top of another, creating a piece somewhat reminiscent to Ingram Marshall’s Fog Tropes.
Unlike the B3 Hammond-driven Zony Mash or the synthesizer-heavy President, 4+1 focuses on the piano as the main instrument.
Although Horvitz is a skilled improviser on piano — as Naked City demonstrated so glaringly — his own music has rarely employed the instrument.
On From a Window, Horvitz shows he can draw back on his fiery fingers, letting the attack and decay of the piano punctuate the overall texture created by the rest of the ensemble.
“Crispin and Lisa’s Duet” focuses more on Priester and Kang, but the piano in the background is no less present.
From a Window is one of Horvitz’s most beautiful works, a collection of haunting melodies set to an imaginative set of instruments.