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9 Horses: A Chamber Trio Scales Up with 'Omegah'

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Matthew P Lomanno
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9 Horses: Andrew Ryan, Sara Caswell, and Joe Brent

9 Horses, co-founded by mandolinist Joe Brent and violinist Sara Caswell, performs music with no stylistic barriers. They formed their partnership nine years ago, but it took a pandemic for this small ensemble to realize its full potential.

On another edition of My Music (turned into Our Music), Joe Brent and Sara Caswell take us on their journey, beginning when they discovered each other on common ground, amusingly playing each other’s instruments. Joe picked up the violin first as a toddler and still plays it proficiently from time to time. They met sharing a music stand at a pop concert featuring Japanese singer Mariko Takahashi at Carnegie Hall.

Five years later, Sara was asked to play the mandolin for the ensemble Rose and Nightingale. Ready for the challenge, she reached out to Joe, who agreed to give her a few mandolin tips. Those meetings quickly turned into jam bonding sessions. "I couldn't charge for those lessons 'cause they ended up turning into jam sessions." Thus, came the birth of 9 Horses. Watch them perform "A New Machine" during our interview.

Nine Horses perform "A New Machine" on The Checkout, from WBGO Studios

9 Horses started at first only as a duo, sealed by their love of similar western music across the spectrum. Both grew-up in households abundant in far-ranging styles, the classical modulations of Monteverdi, the trumpet musings of Miles Davis, and the electric distortion of Jimi Hendrix.

They decided to explore uncharted sounds, mostly original compositions by Brent, which spawned their first EP as a duo, followed by their first excellent full length album on Sunnyside, Perfectest Herald (2015), with the musical multi-lingual addition of Andrew Ryan on double bass.

But they were still far from reaching their evolutionary destiny. Last year, Nine Horses grew to a family of 21 musicians, many of whom had idle time during the pandemic. The band had a new opportunity to present an explosion of sound with Omegah, which was released last week.

This incarnation of 9 Horses — unlike the modest album that preceded it — moves like a meticulously crafted Mahavishnu Orchestra, yet made for this century. Brent, whose side gig is a sound engineer, had his personal home recording studio ready at bay during the outbreak. He could finally make the album of his dreams with all the glorious nuance and scope. As you’ll hear on its epic title track, the group quickly pivots from one sonic realm to another, dancing between electric to chamber ideas with breeze and beauty.

For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.