Josh and Ray, The Horn Bellows
BY PAUL RAUCH
Seattle trumpeter Ray Larsen has established himself professionally through live performances and recordings. He has albums of his original compositions to his credit, along with performance credits that include Michael Shrieve’s Spellbinder and Wayne Horvitz, a testament to his virtuosic flexibility. Accordionist Josh Hou is perhaps less celebrated, but facing facts, the accordion is not as in demand an entity in the jazz world as Larsen’s instrument of choice. What the two do share to equal degree is a keen sense of humor, something those who are acquainted with these two gentlemen are well aware of. To see that these two had created an album of duets then raises a gigantic question mark, followed by an exclamation point, a chuckle, and nodding of the head in humorous agreement.
Larsen and Hou began playing informally in spring of 2021, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing (no pun intended), and local music venues shuttered. The sessions took place outside on Hou’s deck, with the accordionist masked up, and Larsen comically and practically seated in a tiny, one-person COVID trumpet tent (I’m not making this up). The joy of making music following a long lock-down was front and center. Over time, the duo had worked out a series of tunes to present, resulting in this effort titled The Horn Bellows.
The album’s originals speak plainly to pandemic times, with titles like Larsen’s “Places We Used to Go,” and Hou’s “Too Bad It’s All Just a Sea of Fog.” The pair of tunes, much like the cover of Dave Douglas’ “Bal Masque,” leaves the listener feeling as if they are in a Parisian cafe in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, room deserted, ceiling fan slowly rotating, wiping the sweat off the back of their neck. The music feels lonely, with Larsen weaving melodic lines around Hou’s chordal support. For the most part, this is the arrangement, with Hou as accompanist and Larsen producing melodies both written and improvised. Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” and Charlie Chaplin’s highly adaptable message, “Smile,” follow suit with Larsen’s melodies framed in his trademark tonality.
Over the course of time, this recording may very well be viewed as one would see photographs of performers wearing masks in the future—a musical signpost of these times. While the photographer may dwell on the facial expressions lost behind the mask, the masked face is what truly expresses this journey over time through a one hundred year pandemic. Follow this link to find out more about the album.