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Is this jazz?

Wayne Horvitz and long-time bandmates will bend structures in Olympia

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If the words “Wayne Horvitz is going to play in Olympia” doesn’t mean much, keep reading. A multi-genre veteran, Horvitz and compatriots comprise aptly-named Sweeter than the Day.

Offering a breathtaking trip to the event horizon of experimental jazz, blues and a few other categorical clichés, Sweeter than the Day is about stretching the art of, well, whatever it is.

Those with ears to hear and those wise enough to buy tickets to the Dec. 6 show at Olympia’s Art House Designs will know what that means.

Without hesitation, Horvitz hesitates to classify his art. That may stem from his extensive repertoire. It may stem from the fact that what he does can’t be contained in a linear set of pop-culture references. It may stem from the fact that an artist like Horvitz hates being stuffed in boxes. That’s what artists do, he contends. They make their own boxes, crawl inside, and immediately begin making a new one. People like Horvitz can’t wait to use the new one to break out of the old.

“I don’t think this is jazz, per se … this band is … sorry, I’m just not going to do it. I can’t,” says Horvitz. “I feel like so many people stop at the first step. If I don’t think what I’m writing is a step above what I have done before, I throw it in the trash.”

For someone with Horvitz’s history, that’s saying a lot. As a composer, he has completed commissioned work for The Kronos Quartet, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New World Records and Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Festival organizers.  He has created works to accompany Ezra Pounds’ “Elektra.” He wrote a full-length score for Public Broadcasting System’s “Chihuly Over Venice.” He has collaborated with everyone from Billy Bang to John Zorn. He is an alum of bands such as The President and the Horvitz, Morris, Previte Trio, Pigpen, Zony Mash, The New York Composers’ Orchestra and Ponga. His combined discography as producer and performer numbers in the hundreds. He also contributed to one of the sickest album titles ever — David Sewelson And The 25 O’Clock Band’s Synchro-Incity, on which Horvitz killed the contrabass.

Horvitz’s latest collaboration brings together some worthy talent. The Olympia show will include the man himself on the Fender Rhodes; Tim Young, who Horvitz calls “one of the most underappreciated guitar players in the world”; Keith Low on upright bass; and Eric Eagle standing in for Andy Roth on drums.

Sound like a classic ensemble? Well, don’t expect them to do a whole lot of classic tricks. Listening to the album is like riding a roller coaster in slow motion, with plenty of melodic dips that are sure to make listeners take sharp breaths. Perfect imperfections abound. On songs like “Julian’s Ballad,” Young’s guitar and Horvitz’s keys become the aural equivalent of watching birds chase each other against a clear sky. The song swirls and dives in all the right-wrong places. There isn’t a moment to wonder when the next change will arrive. By the time one stretch is digested, a new beat has emerged, or someone sneaks in a snare, or the bass drops again, or keys go from brook to waterfall. Despite its languishing pace, there isn’t a moment of boredom.

“I hear great jazz groups come up and play the same song all the time. I try to make the structure unique,” says Horvitz. “Sometimes the improv might come at the changes. Sometimes it’s free. We’ve worked these same kinds of structures for over a hundred years now. I think its time to do something else.”

All balls don’t bounce

Jazz is a many headed beast. Drawing on African polyrhythms, swing, blue notes and the occasional dose of extended improvisation, Jazz is an American-born art form with roots in West Africa. Some like it more artsy than others …

Bebop intentionally introduced a dose of dissonance into jazz, injecting sideways, chord-based improvisation and mercurial, dramatic drumplay that rode the ride and used snares and bass drums like Alamut assassins used knives. Beboppers like Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and Dizzy Gillespie pissed off a lot of traditionalists.

Free jazz grew from bebop, but further crossed the line by cutting down on composition and giving performers more freedom to play with structures and melodies. Harmonies were often loose, with tempos equally avoidant of traditional structure. Free jazz demi-gods like Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane and Sun Ra pissed off a lot of traditionalists.

Jazz fusion made a beautiful musical Frankenstein from jazz and rock. Jazz fusion artists liberally employed electric guitar, synthesizers and electric bass. The mutation used syncopation, alien time signatures, and dizzying chords and harmonies to carve a sometimes uncomfortable niche for avant-garde artists like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Frank Zappa, who also pissed off a lot of traditionalists.

Sweeter Than the Day

What: Four musicians — Wayne Horvitz, Tim Young, Keith Lowe, Andy Roth — who have played experimental jazz for almost 10 years.

When: Thursday, Dec. 6, 8:30 p.m.

Where: Art House, 420 Franklin St., downtown Olympia

Admission: $10 at the door, $5 13 and younger

Information: The Art House can be reached at 360.943.3377. For information on Sweeter Than the Day, check out:

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