The Westerlies: Wish the Children Would Come On Home: The Music of Wayne Horvitz

A number of different genres are evoked on The Westerlies' Wish the Children Would Come On Home—American folk, ragtime, funeral music, classical, blues, and early jazz, among them. As one listens to the forty-seven-minute set, it becomes easy, for example, to visualize horn players standing next to a freshly dug grave consoling mourners with a song. Though the Westerlies, a NY-based and Juilliard-trained brass quartet hailing from Seattle, has premiered more than forty original works since its 2011 inception, its latest collection is wholly dedicated to the music of Wayne Horvitz, a friend and mentor who sits in on a handful of the sixteen tracks. This provided trumpeters Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler and trombonists Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch with lots to choose from, given that Horvitz has built up a stockpile of works over three decades; as important, the group was able to select a stylistically diverse set of jazz, film, and classical chamber pieces for the recording.

The fact that the original pieces weren't arranged for brass quartet enabled The Westerlies to deconstruct Horvitz's music and then re-imagine it in accordance with the group's unusual instrumental format. Core melodies of the composer's were retained, while the quartet's arrangements were structured so as to allow for improvisation and soloing. Paired with such jazz-styled settings are others that see the musicians adhering almost note-for-note to sheet music. “The Circus Prospered” presents an especially haunting example of the quartet's use of counterpoint, whereas other pieces show different sides of the group, among them the stately funeral dirge “Sweeter Than the Day,” nostalgic reverie “Waltz from Woman of Tokyo,” and jovial jaunt “Barber Shop.” 

Theirs is a generally warm and soothing sound, with the horns in many passages locked in a tight embrace, though not so tightly that an instrument can't break free for a bluesy solo. In the absence of a traditional rhythm section, the trombone at times assumes the bass player's role in anchoring the others, and with a modest number of musicians involved, the group is able to alternate comfortably between quiet and loud passages and ensemble and solo episodes. The players are no slouches in the latter department either: on the jubilant “Home,” for instance, the trumpeter blows with the kind of bold assurance one hears in the playing of a Dave Douglas or Wynton Marsalis.

The album benefits from Horvitz's presence, given that his synthesizers (Nord Lead 1 and Yamaha TX-7) and electronics provide a refreshing change of scenery, though the four tracks on which he appears are, in fact, three interludes and one full-fledged piece. The story goes that on the last night of recording Horvitz sat in with the group for multiple run-throughs of his “Wish the Children Would Come On Home,” and it's from those takes that the interludes, interspersed throughout the album, originated. Their free-form, experimental character makes for an effective contrast to the rest of the material.

Trombonist Clausen states that the band members think of The Westerlies as more of a folk brass band than a jazz or classical outfit. But while that's borne out by the recording (in no small part due to the American folk influence within Horvitz's music), it might be more accurate to see the group's persona less as an either/or proposition and more as a natural meeting-ground of various styles. And a word of praise must be directed to Songlines, too, for enhancing the release's presentation with an attractive mini-booklet filled with background info and colour photos.

June 2014