Mary Halvorson: guitar; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor saxophone; Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Jacob Garchik: trombone; Susan Alcorn: pedal steel guitar; John Hébert: bass; Ches Smith: drums.
Originally from Brookline, Massachusetts, and based in Brooklyn, New York, Mary Halvorson, a skillful guitarist, unpredictable improviser, gifted composer, and unavoidable figure of the avant-garde jazz current, has been very active in New York since 2002. Highly in-demand in the last couple of years, Halvorson has participated in several recordings as a sidewoman in addition to the release of her first solo album, Meltframe, and a few audacious duo and trio projects she co-leads. Her style usually features twisted-yet-beautiful harmonies and an out-of-the-box improvisational vision that encompasses complex patterns, audacious phrases, and dazzling atonal and polytonal approaches.
To give the most appropriate course to her tempting new album, Away With You, the unconventional 36-year-old guitarist brought together an extraordinary octet. The resultant body of work confers her, once and for all, the statute of large-ensemble leader.
Evincing a more melodic and cerebral approach than her previous works, the recording starts with “Spirit Splitter (No. 54)”, a distortedly symphonic volcano that spills rapturous counterpoints and steamy exchanges. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon puts his best foot forward, showing why he’s considered an outstanding improviser. Halvorson brands her quirky, tense chords right after a reverberant collective improvisation packed with horn sounds.
Her probing guitar dominates “Away With You (No. 55)”, a frolicking avant-pop piece that also counts on trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson’s unpretentious speeches and Ches Smith’s freethinking yet methodical drumming.
“The Absolute Outmost (No. 52)” features Susan Alcorn playing her pedal guitar steel in a meditative way. Halvorson, opting for unusual sounds, and John Hébért, who bows the bass accordingly, join her until the fourth minute, time when the reeds erupt and a flamboyant rhythm is installed. Ingrid Laubrock excels with a portentous solo that encompasses melodious lines, hints of bop phrasing, and explosive temper.
Other notable tunes are “Fog Bank (No. 56)”, a suspenseful piece sculpted by guitar, bowed bass, and trombone; “Safety Orange (No. 59)”, an exquisite guitar-horn irreverence played at 3/4 tempo; and the conclusive “Inky Ribbons (No. 53)”, an unattached melodic song embellished by beautiful guitar interactions and featuring the reedists by turns.
Away With You is Halvorson’s most enlightened and maturest work so far. The gallant sonic tapestry weaved through the fabulous arrangements enhances the collective rather the individual. Still, sectional free forms and ravishing improvisations remind us that Halvorson’s uncanny knack for playing out of standardized zones remains intact. For our contentment!
01 – Spirit Splitter ► 03 – The Absolute Outmost ► 08 – Inky Ribbons