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9 Horses
rec. 2020-2021
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview 

The group 9 Horses describe themselves as “post genre” and this album did cause me to reflect on the fact that new music in the more progressive end of the fields of jazz, rock and classical have probably never been closer together. To be truly post genre, however, a band or ensemble must transcend those old classifications. I think of the allegedly jazz group, The Necks, as a near miraculous example of such a breaking down of boundaries. The issue with 9 Horses is that I never feel they leave behind the old categories. It is very obvious when they are playing jazz and when they are playing rock and when they are turning their hand to classical.

This, of course, needn’t be an issue though I found that there are other problems too. The joins between genres aren’t always the most elegant. Worse still, the music they play in each of the three styles I mentioned isn’t often particularly competitive against the best in each field. There is rock or pop style percussion on almost every track, yet compared to the most creative rock producers’ work, it feels a bit obvious and stale. Perhaps to a classical listener unfamiliar with that style of music it might seem fresh, but time and again this album relies on the combination of elements rather than the quality of the ingredients. Similarly, the jazz here wouldn’t cut it with the best on the contemporary jazz scene. Perhaps most disappointingly for this particular review site, classical very definitely takes third place in the list of musical priorities. The classical that is here seems to be all a little obvious and uninspired. Not much to dislike about it but not much to get the pulse racing either.

If this recording does resemble the curate’s egg somewhat, then I do need to insist that there are many good parts to it. I found myself thinking of fusion food as I got to know it. I have no trouble imagining that other listeners, especially from the curious end of rock, will find a lot to enjoy here. There is no denying that there is a lot of terrific musicianship on display here. I wanted to enjoy Sara Caswell’s violin a lot more than I did, but I have a visceral dislike of the amplified violin which I feel robs it of a lot of the instrument’s subtlety and dynamic range. It sounds to me like the equivalent of someone who only speaks at full volume. I thought this was a shame, as Caswell’s contributions are always vital and creative. For another listener the sound of a miked-up fiddle will be a glorious one, and if you are such a listener I suggest you give this a try.

The best thing on this recording is a section of Max Richter’s Dreams. Here, perhaps responding to an outside influence, I found all the best bits of this disc and almost none of the weaknesses I have mentioned. Maybe I am too confined to my particular music ghetto in liking the piece closest to contemporary classical!

There is an irony here because I suspect the very things that I liked least are the qualities that ought to make this recording sell well. It is certainly accessible in style right across the genres it deploys and it has clearly been produced with great care and love. Ultimately I have come to the conclusion that I am probably not its target audience and, as a consequence, I do not wish to be too harsh on a disc that even I enjoyed a lot in places. With music like this, which blurs categories, the only answer is to try for yourself and, in that regard, I can allow myself to be unequivocal: this is definitely a recording worth sampling.

David McDade

Omegah [8:38]
S7rophe [7:57]
A new machine [10:07]
The grain of the wood of the frame [8:51]
Max Richter’s Dreams [15:11]
The water understands [7:43]
All the beautiful Rockwood kids [9:19
Let’s just make it me and you [8:48]

9 Horses:
Joe Brent (mandolin)
Sara Caswell (violin and Hardanger d’amore)
Andrew Ryan (double bass)

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