ZONY MASH wasn't meant to hit it big. Keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, a key figure in New York's progressive jazz scene of the '80s, founded the

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Wayne Horvitz's great groove-tet has a sensitive side too.

ZONY MASH wasn't meant to hit it big. Keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, a key figure in New York's progressive jazz scene of the '80s, founded the funky quartet several years ago as a strictly local jam band in his new home of Seattle.

But, as Horvitz writes in some recent liner notes, "That was three CDs and 65,000 miles ago." The group caught the wave of acid-groove, crossover jazz popularized by Medeski, Martin & Wood, and gathered up a following of younger fans beyond its dedicated jazz audience. Zony Mash have toured the US and Europe several times.

Zony Mash

playing March 28-30 at O.K. Hotel

Early last year, Horvitz and his quartet were alternating electric gigs at the 700 Club with unplugged performances at the Baltic Room. They took both sides of that project into a local studio in July, and the results, released last month, are two new discs that beautifully illuminate the many sides of Horvitz and his mates. To celebrate the release, Zony Mash will return for three nights to where the band began in 1995: the OK Hotel.

Zony Mash is only one of a half-dozen projects that the high-energy Horvitz has got going. Right now he's in Europe for a month with his 4+1 Ensemble, a delicate chamber group featuring keys, violin, and trombone. He's also been composing atmospheric accompaniments for movies and theater productions, as well as playing full-throttle avant assaults with groups like Ponga and Briggan Krauss' 300. Horvitz has always combined an interest in complex harmonies and simple song lines, caustic electronics and pure piano, furious grooves and ar-rhythmic etherea.

THIS ELECTRIC DISC, Upper Egypt (Knitting Factory), finds Zony Mash moving beyond the "space jams" and chunky vamps of their '98 release (Brand Spankin' New) and into some richer melodic territory. The compositions, nearly all by Wayne, have been expanded to encompass the full range of Americana, from Fillmore fantasies to rural blues anthems. At times, a wistful, country-gospel spirit seems to have descended on the band, as if the urchin soul of Horvitz's buddy Bill Frisell were hovering in the studio.

Though Horvitz is the leader of the group, he leaves loads of space for guitarist Timothy Young, who positively tears up the Zony material. From the first notes of Upper Egypt's opening title cut (a classic of Pharoah Sanders psychedelia), Young masterfully redeploys the cliché³ of every idiom, twisting them around and reeling them out again with detached command. Horvitz on the B-3 will never put Jimmy Smith out of work, but he creates some intensely affecting, contorted tones on his Nord Lead and DX-7, as on "The End of Time."

But the real revelation is the new acoustic session, American Bandstand (Songlines), which is under Horvitz's name, not that of Zony Mash (though the personnel are the same). Here, the brilliance of Wayne's own solo work comes through in all its vivid mystery. With support from bassist Keith Lowe and drummer Andy Roth that's perfectly engaged and withheld, Horvitz marks his lyrical paths along strange harmonic curves, skirting resolution or sweetly resolving, while Young shows that his gentle side is just as compelling as his hotdogging. This is music that's lovely without being goopy, indirect without being too cool.

The Bandstand song list has just one shared piece with Upper Egypt: the beautiful badlands melody "Forever." Otherwise the compositions are mostly ones that Wayne created for soundtracks, string quartets, and other settings. In the liner notes, Horvitz describes how he struggled to find the right format for these pieces before finally realizing that "the band I'd been looking for had been there all along." It's a love song cliché® And it's never been more true.

 
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