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Upper Egypt by Wayne Horvitz & Zony Mash

Lets step back a moment and look at what we have here. Zony Mash takes its name from a composition by the legendary New Orleans R&B group the Meters while the disc’s title is a composition by the equally legendary energy music saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders. Horvitz also extends a nod to the late guitarist Sonny Sharrock in the linear notes. Sharrock played on Sanders’ "Upper Egypt" and later incorporated the song into his solo repertoire. If Horvitz and his crew can combine and synthesize these three influences then this will be one very impressive disc.

If nothing else, the quartet makes an honest effort at doing this. Horvitz’s organ is soulful but he adds the occasion odd note and dark tint to keep things from getting too predictable. Andy Roth plays the skins in by creating undeniable grooves which do not leave a lot of extra space. This is not just backbeats but rather the full use of the kit to keep the tempo. Bassist Keith Lowe works well by moving in and around the space created by Roth. And then there is guitarist Timothy Young who moves with ease from being Sharrock to a Steve Cropper who refuses to play rhythm.

But the fact that Young has to make that move is symbolic of the larger problem with Upper Egypt. Save for a few occasions, the group seems stuck in the mode of either playing in the frenetic style of Sanders or Sharrock or laying down grooves like the Meters. The title cut and the ballad "Forever" are wonderful nods to Sharrock and Sanders. Young mimic Sharrock’s ability to quickly set the mood and the move to a solo without missing a beat and uses the expected amount of distortion. You wouldn't have had much difficulty convincing me that this was actually Sharrock had I not known. Cuts like "Spice Rack" and "FYI" feature groove based organ stylings. The call and response between these two instruments is quite impressive but at the same time the musicians are willing to push things just a bit farther than you expect them to go and occasional blow ups by one or more of the players occurring alongside of playing that stays right on cue. There are a few points of convergence on this disc.

Perhaps the three references just set my standards too high or at least gave me unreasonable expectations. The group shows considerable strength in how they interact with one another and do best when they can follow their own path. The closer, "The Blue Rose," pays homage to early rock and roll with a laid back pulse in its first few minutes. There is "Blueberry Hill" here and also homages to more than one doo-wop standard but then the song turns dark. Young gives a warning as his lines continually get darker and then all of sudden the music all coalesces. The pace is still slow but the clouds have come and they have no intention of leaving as quickly as they came. What was a song without a care becomes a study in desperation and isolation. The disc ends like this. There is not a speck of hope. This is not an upbeat way to end a disc but it is powerful.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Wayne Horvitz & Zony Mash
  • CD Title: Upper Egypt
  • Genre: Soul / Funk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2000
  • Record Label: Knitting Factory Records
  • Musicians: Wayne Horvitz (piano, keyboards), Timothy Young (guitar), Andy Roth (drums), Keith Lowe (bass)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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