Mary Halvorson Quintet
Firehouse 12 Music LP/CD (2013/2012)
Recorded: Jul 30-31, 2011; Released: 2012 (CD), Mar 26, 2013 (LP)
- Mary Halvorson (guitar, compositions)
- Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet)
- Jon Irabagon (alto sax)
- John Hebert (bass)
- Ches Smith (drums)
- Sinks When She Rounds the Bend (no. 22), 7:48
- Hemorrhaging Smiles (no. 25), 7:59
- Forgotten Men in Silver (no. 24), 8:03
- Love in Eight Colors (no. 21), 10:15
- The Periphery of Scandal (no. 23), 7:50
- That Old Sound (no. 27), 4:48
- Sea Cut Like Snow (no. 26), 6:52
- Deformed Weight of Hands (no. 28), 7:09
- All the Clocks (no. 29), 7:48
Mary Halvorson has been widely recognized as one of the most important guitar players of the past decade. A resident of Brooklyn since 2002, she has developed an entirely new and innovative vocabulary on her instrument that is fresh, accessible, and challenging. This record, her third as a leader with her trio/quintet is her most exciting to date. The title, which would also be appropriate as a theme for her career, fits the music particularly well on this album. The record contains nine original compositions by the leader, four for her trio (with the rhythm section) and five with the broader quintet.
The opening track exhibits powerful bass and drum lines which propel the piece forward into uncharted territory, over which the front line of Finlayson, Irabagon, and Halvorson leap with bursts of energy, the guitarist leading the charge. From the very beginning of the album Halvorson displays her signature sound of bending pitches using a pedal to manipulate the sound to her liking. She has become so successful at it that one forgets the difficulty it requires and the concentration she must maintain to reach the desired result. The second piece, appropriately titled “Hemorrhaging Smiles” has one of the lighter moods of all of the pieces on the album. It opens with an extended solo by the saxophonist, then merging with a duet with the trumpeter, and finally with Halvorson joining in on the fun, before returning to the theme.
The third piece, this time a trio, offers a quiet reflection bordering on mournful, at times, structured like a figure walking, making footsteps of sound. It has a solitary feel, though with flourishes of interaction between the three musicians that reach ecstatic levels towards the end of the piece before returning to solitude once again. The fourth tune shifts moods again in a brilliantly composed piece with numerous moving parts, breaking for Finlayson’s full solo–a highlight–turning over to Irabagon who seems to have built upon the general feel of Halvorson’s music while making flirtatious forays in new directions. And finally, the piece affords Smith space to spread his wings and close the piece with a solo.
The following two pieces, both for trio, are among the most interesting on the album. “The Periphery of Scandal” again features Halvorson weaving pitches from initially disconnected bits into a powerful, unified sound. Hebert holds things steady as Halvorson drives indefatigably forward, Smith adding color all the while. “That Old Sound” is an extraordinary track that affords Halvorson the greatest space of any song on the record in which to explore, experiment, and express her passion for unearthing new sounds.
The eighth track (another trio piece) is an interactive, driven piece that oscillates between bold step-by-step lines and group immersion. Halvorson is clearly playing with concepts of separation and connectivity here. The piece builds to the drummer’s solo in which he uses silence, the most hollow-sounding parts of the drums, and doses of energetic beats to further illustrate the overall feel of the song. The final number, “All the Clocks,” again a quintet, feels like a joyful reunion of wayward spirits after many forays into unexplored frontiers, returning after long last to celebrate. Each has a curiosity of what the others have to offer and each has gleaned something from their experiences to share with the whole.
For anyone looking for an introduction to Mary Halvorson’s music, this is a great place to begin. It provides a great sampling of her immense talents both as a guitarist and composer.