Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Mary Halvorson/Jessica Pavone - NYC Jazz Record

Departure of Reason - Halvorson/Pavone

Since the early aughts, guitarist Mary Halvorson has
built a sturdy reputation from behind her hollowbodied
guitar. Her bending lines and precise phrasing,
even in the midst of chaos, can be found throughout
poorly ventilated rooms around the city. The equally
prolific violist Jessica Pavone can often be found
bowing right alongside her. For their newest release,
armed with just two voices and ten strings, the pair
have woven together an hour’s worth of original
material (five compositions apiece) that oscillates
between swaying folk and churning avant garde,
sometimes within the same measure.

“That Other Things” opens the album with
Halvorson playing a chunky oom-pah behind Pavone’s
spacious melody for three slowly building minutes
before Halvorson kicks out a staccato phrase that
quickly escapes into one of her signature jagged lines.
“Hyphen” starts with a promising dissonant Santo &
Johnny strum until halfway through when Pavone
starts repeating the same scale over and over to
aggravating effect. The song eventually dissolves into
a distorted display of flickering guitar and swaying
viola that lurches towards a demure conclusion. The
chamber bounce of the curiously titled “Onslaught”
balances intricately woven lines with lighthearted
aplomb while the give-and-take of penultimate “Ruin”
delves into a harsher realm with Halvorson’s eight-bit
bends and distorted barre chords diving around
Pavone’s jagged downstrokes.

The three songs that feature vocals are quite
different, almost pop-like in tone. “The Object of
Tuesday” has a choppy beat that finds Halvorson and
Pavone in extremely tight harmonies, often sounding
vocally and instrumentally reminiscent of the Haden
sisters. The repeated phrases (the word ‘city’ appears
20 times in the first four lines) add a hypnotic lull
whereas the dirgey vibe of “Saturn” uses the lyrics
more spaciously, revealing that “belief” is the
“departure of reason”. Album closer “Why Should You
Surrender?” meanwhile finds both women in plucked
synchronization. The vocals are also sparser and
contain a sort of lecturey Ooompa Loompa-esque
repetition that is eventually demolished by Halvorson’s
spidery guitar.

Although this album has its charms amid the stark
instrumentation it would be great to hear these same
compositions backed by a hard-rocking rhythm section.
In the meantime these bare performances stand as a
winning testament to their complex partnership.

Halvorson/Pavone @ NYC Jazz Record

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