PRAISE FOR “The Westerlies”

SONGLINES RECORDINGS, October 2016

 

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"How does a four-piece trumpet and trombone instrumental combo earn raves from both indie-leaning music blogs and public radio while also performing at the Newport Jazz Festival and local rock clubs? The answer can be heard in the sprawling self-titled album due Oct. 7. Over two discs the New York City-based, Seattle-born brass band occupies a lively territory between jazz, Steven Foster-styled folk and chamber music with bracing melodies and, crucially, an undeniable sense of fun. Listen to the rollicking “New Berlin, New York,” for starters." - Chris Barton, LA Times

"When New York brass quartet the The Westerlies dropped 2014’s Wish the Children Would Come Home (Songlines) they forced me to reevaluate Seattle keyboardist Wayne Horvitz as a composer. The readings trumpeters Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler and trombonists Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch give to the music of their old teacher are extraordinary, and while I praised the group’s stunning technical abilities, rich timbre, and strong arrangements then, their dazzling new eponymous double CD indicates they deserve even more credit. Aside from interpretations of Charles Ives’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me” and Duke Ellington’s “Where’s the Music?”—as well as an arrangement of the folk tune “Saro” by Sam Amidon and Nico Muhly—the members composed the material, and it’s all knocked me on my ass. There’s no extensive improvisation on these gorgeous pieces, though when they do solo, the players display rigor and a level of execution on par with classic brass ensembles (Mulherkar’s solo on “Where’s the Music?” brings to mind the splendor of Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy at its best). The original repertoire is so strong and varied that the Westerlies represent a kind of bastard child, standing fiercely between genre cracks with works that evoke the Americana of Aaron Copland and John Philip Sousa on the one hand but seeming to translate the rhythmically spastic machinations of EDM on the other (check out “So So Shy”). There are plenty of other stops in between, all delivered with stunning clarity and richness." — Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader

"Many stylistic winds blow through the repertoire of The Westerlies. The unconventional brass quartet from New York (Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler, trumpets; Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch, trombones) embraces jazz, classical, new music and dance — and in this case, puts a new spin on an old British ballad.....The Westerlies' rendition has no vocals, but you still feel the heartache. The expressive arrangement, by Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon, starts with spaciousness. The tune is played unadorned in soft, breathy tones that imply stillness, like the distant sound of a bugler's "Taps." Wistful harmonies creep in as a solo trombone sings the mournful tune. Then, a surprise: A chugging beat emerges and the song quickly takes flight in a glorious trumpet solo. Perhaps the protagonist has found freedom from his lament? Finally, we land, and the song closes softly and sweetly. What a distinctly American twist: to flip a story of sorrow on its head, opening it up to a future bright with possibility." - Tom Huizenga, NPR Music

"The Westerlies are an instrumental quartet bridging jazz, improv, classical, and folk. Their self-titled sophomore album is coming soon, and today they offered a tantalizing preview in the form of “Saro.” Best known as “Pretty Saro,” it originated as a 17th century British folk song — maybe you’ve heard Bob Dylan’s version? — but arrangers Sam Amidon and Nico Muhly have reimagined it as a brassy emotional triumph, like “Taps” slowly building into the stratosphere and then dissolving into warm downward flutters. It’s exceedingly lovely, so listen up." - Chris DeVille, Stereogum

"A few weeks back we shared “Saro,” a lovely ballad by genre-agnostic brass quartet the Westerlies arranged by Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon. Today the band is back with another fascinating exercise in traditional revision, an original composition called “New Berlin, New York.”
Trombonist Andy Clausen wrote the music after seeing a striking photo of a barn in upstate New York. Originally it was composed for a multimedia project called SHUTTER and featured two guitars, cello, trumpet, and trombone, but the Westerlies have transformed it into an all-brass rave-up. In contrast to the sentimental drama of “Saro,” this one is breathlessly frantic, a rapid dance of melodies that will have your heart racing and your body tapping along." - Chris DeVille, Stereogum

"This is a virtuosic outfit capable of playing with immense grace and poise in one setting (Mulherkar's scene-setter “A Nearer Sun” a representative example), its members clearly attuned to one another and demonstrating great sensitivity to dynamics and texture, and then performing the boisterous next with declamatory abandon. The four turn on a dime from the blustery “New Berlin, New York” to the wistful “Saro” with seeming effortlessness. The nine-minute “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself” is as explorative and wide-ranging as the five-day road trip David Lipsky undertook with David Foster Wallace and wrote about in the same-titled book published in 2010. Elsewhere, the quartet's bluesier side convincingly asserts itself in the brassy Ellington cover, “Lopez” sees them weaving separate muted expressions into a restful evocation, and the rousing, Rota-esque “Rue des Rosiers” will likely bring to mind images from Fellini's Amarcord for many a listener. Heartfelt ballads, playful fanfares, elegant chorales, chamber works, hymnal meditations, luminous unison playing, robust soloing—all and more are accounted for on the seventy-five-minute collection." - textura.org

"The Westerlies’ eponymous sophomore album is unified by a clarity of purpose and a distinctive sonic palette. The overall effect of this release is one of harmony and serene simplicity. In fact, this album is so consistently styled and masterfully produced that it could be easy to miss the ingenious subtleties and careful construction that underpin the simple beauty of this release. That would be unfortunate, because to miss the subtleties in these 17 tracks is to miss the potential lasting impact of this album....Much like the delicious balance between varied and unified articulations and colors throughout the album, the pieces themselves represent a diverse, yet broadly unified element that ties the entire release together. All the compositions on this release save three are by The Westerlies themselves. While there are moments of raucousness and unique diversions that occur frequently among these compositions, the overall effect is similar to that of the soundscape that pervades the album; the pieces have enough in common that they hang together remarkable well.....It is at once a plainly beautiful release shot through with genius technique and considerate musical planning, and an innovative exploration into what the future of acoustically-driven music could be. The fearless choices The Westerlies have made on this release lead the way for acoustic music in the face of an increasingly computerized musical landscape, while at the same time creating a sublime listening experience that can be enjoyed for its simplicity and peace." - Second Inversion

 

Praise for “Wish The Children Would Come on Home: The Music of Wayne Horvitz”

Songlines Recordings, May 2014

“The Westerlies play this music clean as a whistle, with attention to detail born of long rehearsals. And they infuse the lyrical passages with deep feeling….The Westerlies represent a breed of musicians rare when Wayne Horvitz was coming up, skilled interpreters who are also adept improvisers. With such versatile and well-equipped performers around, composers can expand their reach and they may all wind up in places they might not have found on their own.” - Kevin Whitehead, NPR's Fresh Air

“Composer and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz was a presence on the New York's genre-bending downtown avant-garde scene in the 1980s before settling in Seattle. The Westerlies are an improvising brass quartet (two trumpets, two trombones) originally from Seattle and now located in New York. Their Horvitz interpretations convey a sense of sky and soil (not to mention the occasional circus or parade) that immediately calls to mind Aaron Copland, Bill Frisell, late-1950s Jimmy Giuffre, and maybe Brian Blade's Landmarks and Charles Ives. It's proof, if any be needed, that the same music can be both folk-like and composerly, lovely and intellectually rigorous. (Also my choice as 2014's best debut album.)” - Francis Davis, NPR Music

“One of the more remarkable albums to cross my path this spring....an impressive feat from almost any angle...Take note of these players. You’ll be hearing more from them soon.” - Nate Chinen, JazzTimes

With the help of staunchly “beyond category” composer Wayne Horvitz, the Westerlies have turned that idea on its head, taking the brass quartet out of the military and baroque, and into that nebulous jazz/compositional space known as “new music.” The four incredible players (two trumpeters and two trombonists) lend Horvitz’s melancholy compositions a gentle, burnished sound, smoothing the edges off dissonance without masking it. “Waltz from Woman of Tokyo” sounds like the score to one of those seemingly pedestrian but ultimately transcendent short films, with its frenetic, contrapuntal center guarded on both sides by a lilting waltz. A beautiful take on what the future sounds like. - Revive Music

“You can’t take a 60-second sample at face value, you have to taste the whole pie to get at what’s inside. And what it is inside is no easy task to describe. Surface listening means you miss out on some rich details. Deeper listening means you may go a little crazy trying to mentally dissect the music. So, what to do? Pick your battles, because Wish the Children Would Come on Home: The Music of Wayne Horvitz means that the Westerlies have arrived and are facing a bright future.” - John Garratt, PopMatters

“Wish the Children Would Come on Home is a lot of things, but first and foremost it should be noted that it is just a lovely listen. It is that rare combination of approachable and unusual that can challenge listeners who want to be challenged and entertain those who don’t.” - Kurt Gottschalk, NYC Jazz Record

The Westerlies, Wish the Children Would Come On Home: A brass quartet that decided to embrace the strange and beautiful music of composer Wayne Horvitz. The Westerlies capture the alien warmth and touching soulfulness inherent in so much of Horvitz’s music, of a soundtrack orphaned from the movie conceived in dream and never put to film. Two on trumpet (Riley Mulherkar & Zubin Hensler) and two on trombone (Andy Clausen & Willem de Koch). An added bonus are the four improvisatory tracks, for which Wayne Horvitz himself performs on. Just a beautiful album. Highly Recommended.” - Dave Sumner, Wondering Sound

“The Westerlies are most certainly a fresh breeze in an often stagnant world.  "Wishing The Children Would Come On Home" is a delightful reminder of the wealth of fine music that Wayne Horvitz has created and continues to create.” - Richard Kamis, Steptempest

“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.” - Exystence Music Blog