Mary Halvorson: Amaryllis/Belladonna album review

Mary Halvorson: Amaryllis/Belladonna album review

When telling the story of her upbringing, Mary Halvorson often emphasizes advice she received from two of her early mentors, Joe Morris and Anthony Braxton: The most important thing is to find your own voice. More than any other female guitarist working today, in jazz or anywhere else, she has succeeded in realizing this deceptively simple ambition. One listen to her play and you’ll recognize her anywhere: as a soloist, as a leader or accompanist in any number of ensembles, or in duos with players from the worlds of avant-garde improvisation or indie rock.

On the one hand, her tone is clear and forthright near the point of lack of impact, maintaining a sense of calm in the proceedings even as she belts out increasingly elaborate melodic fractals, stoic in the eye of a gathering storm. On the other hand, with the help of the trusty Line 6 DL4, it transforms the guitar into something slippery and exotic. Individual notes seem to suddenly lose ground, ringing confidently at first, then slipping and swaying out of tune. The licks pile up on top of each other until they become a single undifferentiated mass, iridescent and bleeding beyond the margins. When recording, she generally places one microphone on her amplifier and another directly on her unamplified strings, capturing both sounds at the same time. The effect creates an unexpected universality between her two approaches to the instrument: bringing out an uncanny quality from the clean quiet of her playing, and grounding her more raucous passages in a certain naturalism.

As a composer and arranger, Halvorson treats each of her albums as an opportunity to create a new context for her unique sound as a guitarist, a practice she continues Amaryllis And Belladonna, a pair of records released simultaneously and intended as a “modular and interwoven” pair. on Amaryllis, it follows an all-encompassing streak found in its catalog towards ever-larger ensembles, leading a newly created quintet – Patricia Brennan on vibraphone, Nick Dunston on bass, Thomas Fujiwara on drums, Jakub Jarczyk on trombone, and Adam O’Farrell on trumpet – and an increased The quartet’s core lineup, Mivos, is featured on side two of the album. on BelladonnaShe stripped the jazz band, leaving only her guitar and strings. By releasing them as separate but related projects, Halvorson allows listeners to find their own way through an impressive collection of music: take each disc alone, or both together as a double album, in any order you choose. I am better Amaryllis First then belladonna, Hear the former as a raucous culmination of the bandleader Halvorson’s final albums, and the latter as a first glimpse of the hazy and uncertain territory on the other side.

Amaryllis It starts out in media res, as if you’ve just wandered into a rehearsal space where Halvorson and the band started jamming an hour ago. The vibes, bass and drums revolve around a disorienting groove: funky, but with an elusive downbeat, inviting you to dance and then repeatedly pulling the rug out from under you. Halvorson’s guitar is joined by a stuttering, asymmetrical line that sounds like a skipped record. Is this the main theme, or just a bit of point-blank improvisation? Then the horns join in in unison, and a melody that initially seemed disjointed becomes inescapable, even if a little triumphant. Halvorson’s compositions often work this way, playfully undermining and deconstructing themselves as they go, subverting your expectations of what idea is at hand and what the main event is.

Halvorson is a coordinator, organizer, innovative and generous Amaryllis In a way that never feels like it’s just a vehicle for dazzling solos, even though there’s a lot of it. It has a painterly approach to sound, attuned to all the rich colors the set has at its disposal. Many of the album’s finest moments come with the dramatic addition or deletion of a particular musical shade, such as the way her guitar overlays Garshick’s trombone with a delicate reverb on “Night Shift,” providing an eerie, sensual counterpoint to his brass orations. On the title track, the guitar and bass are manually charged while the horns provide a soothing counter-tone; If it weren’t for Fujiwara’s powerful drumming that had everyone gathered and heading in the same direction, you might think they were playing two completely different pieces. Later in the same track, O’Farrell is bombarded from all sides by fragments of percussion and distorted guitar, riding a four-note figure up and down the range of his trumpet. The effect is strictly analogue, but it resembles one of Halvorson’s excursions into the delay pedal in the way he turns a wayward gesture into an angry fix-it idea.

Belladonna Removes prop AmaryllisTrumpets and percussion section. At times, the guitar and string quartet move like one amorphous organism, untethered to any particular pulse. In other cases, one voice will provide a stable ostinato as a home base for others to wander away from and return to at will. The melodic lines drift in and out of focus and cohesion. Allow your attention to ease for a while and you may come back to find that the form you took for granted as a simple accompaniment has at some point emerged as the main focus of the music. These qualities were all present on Amaryllis But it’s more pronounced here, as the sparse instrumentation allows the music to dissolve almost completely before coming together again.

The stunning “Haunted Head” begins with a three-note line on Halvorson’s low strings. When you add a few higher notes, the violins pick them up instantly as well, sounding as one with the guitar, providing it with a ghostly sustained rhythmic pickup. These kind of harmonious lines are present on both albums, and now “Haunted Head” is present BelladonnaThe penultimate track – we know Halvorson will likely complicate the simple gesture as the piece continues. Sure enough, as the shape is repeated, the strings slowly become more dissonant, floating away from the key created by the guitar. But they remain locked into its rhythm, maintaining the illusion that you’re hearing a single shifting sound, rather than the gradual building of a chord.

For 10 minutes, the piece continues in this way, taking a pre-established element and expanding on it unexpectedly, bringing the music to a new place. Halvorson’s initial low line eventually becomes the seed of a soaring melody for the entire ensemble, and then the cello picks out the initial version again in pizzicato while Halvorson takes a playful solo. The music that began as vapor, sparse and spectral, became a kind of strange, exhilarating and irrepressible parlor dance. Thanks to the way Halvorson incorporates a little of each previous gesture into the next, the transformation occurs in a way that feels natural, without a single jarring left turn.

Amaryllis And Belladonna These are outstanding statements. One can hear either album alone without feeling like something is missing. But they are most powerful when they are put together, like a landscape and its reflection in rippling water. The clearest moment of synchronicity between the two comes with a tear at the end of each: Halvorson taps the distortion pedal and it starts to burn — ending with a solo whose intensity far exceeds anything that came before, paving the way toward whatever is next.

    (marks for translation) Mary Halvorson 

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