The Gravitas Quartet is pianist Wayne Horvitz’s improvising chamber ensemble. Its members are all highly distinctive voices on their instruments, the sound of the group is unique, and the playing is both classically poised and jazzily exuberant and inventive. What really makes the music shine though is Wayne’s gift as a composer, the way his themes and harmonies insinuate themselves into the listener’s consciousness and often touch you in those vulnerable places with their tart nostalgia and bittersweet melancholy.
You can hear the long history of jazz in some of these pieces; others seem to break free from genre expectations altogether. Since the late 1980s Wayne has been composing for various classical music ensembles – string orchestra, string quartet (heard on his Tzadik CD Whispers, Hymns and a Murmur), and various other chamber groups, sometimes with electronics and/or improvising soloists such as Bill Frisell, Eyvind Kang or Peggy Lee.
The Gravitas Quartet splits the difference between this work and jazzier writing for groups such as Sweeter Than the Day: “This group really came out of my desire to find a context for the way I’ve been developing my piano playing in the last five years…. When I have a new project I often have a lot of ideas at once so I jot them down quickly and then go back and work them through. Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘I need to write a piece that features Peggy’ so clearly my language is inspired partly by her playing. “L.B.” started out when I was fooling around with a harmonic device in a song from West Side Story (hence the title) – but once it developed I doubt most people would notice it. A lot of the structures are similar to ones I might use with the Four plus One Ensemble or even my group with Butch Morris and Bobby Previte from the late 80s. That being said, the actual written material, at least in some cases, is really notated as if I was writing for a classical ensemble, both in terms of the content and compositional technique. They’re really miniatures with places for improvisation.”
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