Sara Schoenbeck and Wayne Horvitz — Cell Walk (Songlines, 2020)
Maybe I just don’t look in the right places, but I’m occasionally dismayed that I don’t see more recordings featuring bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. She played with Jimmy Lyons! Free-jazz bassoon! She’s hung out with the SoCal improv crowd and recorded on pfMentum! What’s not to love?
OK, I exaggerate. Schoenbeck has had quite a lot of output in the 2010s. Like I said, I just haven’t looked in the right places. Last year, the Vancouver label Songlines turned out to be the right place.
Schoenbeck teamed up with legendary keyboardist Wayne Horvitz for an album of chamber music with spaces for improvisation and freedom. This isn’t out of the blue; the duo play chamber music as half of Horvitz’s Gravitas Quartet, and this album essentially pares down that sound. Cell Walk carries an even-handed mood and is full of polite silences, even during those bursts of improv.
(Gravitas Quartet — ah yes, another piece of Schoenbeck output, right where I wasn’t looking.)
The album feels like a classical recital, little bassoon-and-piano pieces with that concert-hall reverb. “Undecided” opens the album on with that serious air of a continual dance, winding its way through paths of unrepeating notes. The album is not all classical politeness, though. “We Will Be Silk” has the disjointed feel of an improvised piece, a stone carved into oblique angles, while “Tin Palace” briskly sets up a soloing space for Schoenbeck.
“The Fifth Day” is a melodic highlight with a hummable ending theme — a slow, pretty track that might be your “in” if you want to introduce the album to chamber-music-loving friends. It’s quite lovely.