By Pat Moran | From the November-December 2021 issue of Strings magazine
Once an acoustic jazz and new-music duo, 9 Horses has grown to a trio of violinist Sara Caswell, bassist Andrew Ryan, and mandolinist and synthesizer player Joe Brent, who are augmented by a battalion of guest players on the group’s second full-length album, Omegah. Like the bolstered lineup, 9 Horses’ music has undergone a similar expansion of ideas and approaches.
A restless shapeshifting amalgam of jazz, rock, pop, improvisation, melody, and variegated acoustic and electronic textures, the collection’s title track serves as a mission statement for the group’s seemingly limitless horizons. Riding Mike Robinson’s dissonant twanging guitar riff, “Omegah” makes room for Brent’s clangorous mandolin, Nadje Noordhuis’ triumphant free-jazz trumpet, Michael Bellar’s rolling-spook-show Hammond organ, and Justin Goldner’s glitchy electronic percussion. All of this simply sets the stage for Grammy-nominee Caswell’s violin, by turns coquettish, skittish, and sharply taloned.
The rest of the album doesn’t surpass this composition, but the remaining seven songs keep pace with its achievements while slyly recapitulating themes and chord sequences from “Omegah” in other songs. Boasting equal measures of warmth and eerie beauty, “a new machine” entwines Noordhuis’ fluttering trumpet with Damien Bassman’s splashing cymbals and Caswell’s woozy lingering violin.
On “Max Richter’s Dreams,” Dallin Applebaum’s breathy whispered vocals are multi-tracked into a corkscrewing madrigal filtered through a cloud layer of electronic distortion punctured by swooping violin and Rebecca Pechefsky’s pointillist harpsichord.
“Let’s just make it me and you” concludes the album with an uplifting pop tune emerging from a thicket of percolating Latin percussion, shuddering electric guitar, and Caswell’s haunted arabesques on violin. Only 9 Horses can make such a complex and experimental mix of timbres, colors, and themes sound so effortless and free.