Wayne Horvitz: The Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble: At The Reception
In adopting the conductor role, Wayne Horvitz doesn't actually play on At The Reception, but with all of the music composed by him, it's very much a Horvitz project. As important is the fact that he's not conducting The Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble, a fourteen-piece big band featuring many of his favourite Seattle improvisers, in the traditional sense but using the ‘Conduction' method associated with Butch Morris. In this system, the conductor spontaneously arranges and reconstructs the music in the moment by using hand signals to guide individual players and sections through a given piece. It's not pure improvisation but rather a malleable system that deploys pre-composed motifs as a starting point.
Don't be thrown by the Constructivist-styled cover artwork, by the way. At The Reception isn't a collection of Russian-themed military marches, but, as stated, a full set of Horvitz originals. (The idea for the Constructivist cover might be traced to a conversation between Horvitz and the group's soprano saxist Kate Olsen, who asked why the band was named a collective when it plays his compositions only and follows his direction, to which Horvitz replied that there are lots of ways by which the term collective can be understood and cited Stalin by way of example.)
Horvitz's experiences playing with Morris and John Zorn have no doubted bolstered his comfort level in applying ‘Conduction' to an ensemble of the RRCME's size. It's a high-risk proposition but one the assembled forces pull off extremely well, so much so that the uninformed listener could come away from the recording thinking that all of the pieces were formally charted from beginning to end.
A few of the arrangements recall Gil Evans' inimitable voice (e.g., the brooding ballad setting “Forgiveness”), and the arranging styles of jazz composers such as Carla Bley, Mingus, and Ellington also suggest themselves during the seventy-five-minute recording. Buoyed by the rhythm section's Coltrane-esque vamping, “Daylight,” for instance, frees up for blustery episodes of a distinctly Mingus-like character. Still, At The Reception is never so derivative that it ends up sounding like anything but a Horvitz project, especially when his irreverent side surfaces during “Barber Shop,” whose spirited jaunt is reminiscent of circus music for a clown's act.
Admittedly the musicians impress more as a collective unit than as soloists, but the playing's nevertheless at a high level throughout and there are luscious sonorities aplenty. Horvitz's compositions often locate themselves squarely within the big band tradition and sometimes resemble an expanded version of a Mingus band. Exuberantly performed, the pieces are confidently driven by pianist Ryan Burns, bassist Geoff Harper, and drummer Eric Eagle and soloing is shared between horn and woodwind players. In fact, the music exudes such a palpably live feel, the absence of audience applause when a piece ends can be jarring.
One final detail: Horvitz assembled the recording so that it would simulate a two-sided vinyl album and with that in mind inserted a minute-long pause (overlong to these ears) between the seventh and eighth pieces. A simulation more in line with standard vinyl lengths would have featured sides lasting no more than, say, twenty-five minutes apiece instead of the thirty-seven presented in each half.