[12 May 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Anytime a jazz album is billed as So-and-So Plays the Music of Such-and-Such, it ends up being a pretty good bet. Unlike most pop albums devoted to all covers or multiple artists covering one artist, the aforementioned type of jazz tribute comes with a built-in laser beam focus. There’s something about the uniformity of the performer(s) and the consistency of the material, though they be different people, that ups the ante for all involved, including the listener. Wish the Children Would Come on Home: The Music of Wayne Horvitz is no exception to this rule. If you clicked on this review, there’s a good chance you know who jazz composer Wayne Horvitz is. But you may be scratching your head wondering “Who the hell are The Westerlies? And does Wayne know about any of this?”
The Westerlies are a small brass ensemble. And yes, Mr. Horvitz approves of the project. He even helped out with it, producing and adding some keys and electronics to the mix. All four members of the Westerlies were Julliard students who were working closely with Wayne Horvitz before this album was even discussed. Their arrangement is a tad unusual, two trumpets to two trombones. So it’s not exactly Canadian Brass in terms of range. But the source material comes from different facets of Horvitz’s musical personality which includes contemporary classical, jazz and something along lines of quirky cabaret. Without a rhythm section, the music can and does breathe on its own. From the potential “hey-look-at-us-we’re-just-four-horns” schtick, the music never suffers.
Wayne Horvitz’s touch to the project feels minimal. He provides an ambient backdrop to three untitled improvised interludes, the total of which comes to a whopping 2:41, and gives the Westerlies a digital impersonation of feedback as the foundation for the title track. It’s odd when you actually stop and think about these four tracks and how they may or may not relate to the rest of the album, but listening to Wish the Children Would Come on Home straight through doesn’t give you that same feeling. Eno-tronics and shifting genres be damned, it just sounds like one body of work.
The mood is known to stretch too. “Please Keep That Train Away From My Door” is the stuff of funerals. Right after that is the waltz “9/8” where one of the trombonists gets plenty of lip exercise in order to provide the appropriate oinks normally reserved for a tuba. True to the waltz’s title, the three-beat phrases are three to a cycle. An easy melody helps disguise this. We take a turn south on “The Band With Muddy”, a tune that sounds part Dixie, part show tune, part modern chamber music. “Home” runs with the show tune component for a peppy, happy 1:46. “You Were Just Here”, the longest track, is also one of the toughest to identify. “Atonal blues” is probably the most accurate way to describe the rubato theme, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. “You Were Just Here” sounds like it’s searching for an anchor and remains unsatisfied with what it’s found so far.
In a way, any small chunk of Wish the Children Would Come on Home is nothing but a puzzle piece. You can’t take a 60-second sample at face value, you have to taste the whole pie to get at what’s inside. And what it is inside is no easy task to describe. Surface listening means you miss out on some rich details. Deeper listening means you may go a little crazy trying to mentally dissect the music. So, what to do? Pick your battles, because Wish the Children Would Come on Home: The Music of Wayne Horvitz means that the Westerlies have arrived and are facing a bright future.