New York's white guitarist Mary Halvorson, an alumna of Anthony Braxton and
a former member of a trio called Map documented on Six Improvisations For Guitar Bass And Drums (july 2002) and Fever Dream,
recorded in a duo with violist Jessica Pavone, another
Braxton alumna, a series of chamber jazz albums:
Prairies (2005), On & Off (2007),
Thin Air (october 2008)
Departure of Reason (2011).
Opulence (february 2007) was a live session with drummer Weasel Walter.
She formed her first trio, documented on Dragon's Head (february 2008), with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith, but she kept trying different combinations:
Calling All Portraits (2008) featured Devin Hoff, Jessica Pavone and Ches Smith;
Crackleknob (november 2006) featured trumpeter Nate Wooley and bassist Reuben Radding; and
Mystery Meat (september 2008),
Electric Fruit (november 2009) and Mechanical Malfunction (april 2012) featured trumpeter Peter Evans and drummer Weasel Walter.
Halvorson also played in People, formed by Storm & Stress' drummer Kevin Shea.
Her quintet added trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon
to the rhythm section of Hebert and Smith for
Saturn Sings (2010) and Bending Bridges (2012), probably the
peaks of her art, often inspired by
rock and soul music.
She also played on Tom Rainey's
Camino Cielo Echo (may 2011) with
Ingrid Laubrock on sax and Tom Rainey on drums.
Secret Keeper, formed with bassist Stephan Crump, debuted with
Super Eight (july and november 2011), followed by
Emerge (june 2013).
These Arches, formed by drummer Ches Smith with
(tenor sax), Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Andrea Parkins (accordion and
Finally Out Of My Hands (2010),
Hammered (december 2011), featuring Tim Berne (alto sax),
and the live International Hoohah (july 2012).
Mary Halvorson's Sifter (Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Matt Wilson on drums) debuted with Sifter (october 2011), mostly composed by Knuffke and Wilson.
Halvorson debuted a
new septet for
Illusionary Sea (september 2012):
Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jon Irabagon
(alto sax), Ches Smith (drums), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax), John
Hebert (bass) and Jacob Garchik (trombone).
Ghost Loop (2013) documents a live date
with John Hebert on double-bass and Ches Smith on drums.
A collaboration among Eugene Chadbourne (banjo), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Jessica Pavone (viola), Barry Mitterhof (mandolin), Evan Gallagher (keyboards, percussion & electronics) and Stephanie Rearick (piano) yielded Click Beetle (Chadula, 2013) recorded in 2008 and 2009 and Credited to Insect and Western.
Thumbscrew (april 2013 - Cuneiform, 2014) was a collaboration among guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara and bassist Michael Formanek.
There are moments of genius (like the crippled flamenco moves that surface in
iThumbscrew, the suspended guitar solo in the middle of
Still Doesn't Swing,
the syncopated and catchy theme of Line To Create);
but too much of this disc sounds sedated, perhaps due to the fact that the
trio tried a bit too hard to keep a democratic balance.
Highlights are the funereal pow-wow dance that opens Fluid Hills In Pink,
only to drown in Halvorson's extended intellectual doodling, and
the brainy post-rock alienation of Buzzard's Breath.
Plymouth (Rare Noise, 2014) launched a new project with Jamie Saft (organ, echoplex piano, Fender Rhodes), Joe Morris (electric guitar), Chris Lightcap (electric bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) and Mary Halvorson (electric guitar)
Reverse Blue (december 2013) debuted a new project with
with Chris Speed on tenor sax & clarinet, Eivind Opsvik on
double bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums.
Mary Halvorson's solo guitar Meltframe (november 2014) contains jazz covers.
Noel Akchote & Mary Halvorson (february 2016) was a collaboration with fellow guitarist Noel Akchote that yielded twenty audio miniatures.
Can I V flirts with several genres in one song, from country finger-picking to neoclassical/baroque dances. The eccentric slavic Icare Easter is contrasted with
the psychedelic syncopated Flowers (in which Halvorson's tonal distortions sound like a synth), the oddly melodic and samba-like Pline and the
bluesy John Abercrombie tribute Aber-lied (that are relatively straightforward)
the convoluted and dissonant avant-swing skit Vuiper Trout
free-form cacophony of Hune Lune.
The album also contains several covers
(the standard All The Things You Are, Ornette Coleman's Him & Her, Misha Mengelberg's Weer is Een Dag Voorbij, Jacques Thollot's Entre Java Et Bali, Bill Frisell's Strange Meeting, Pat Metheny's The Bat)
as well as a new version of May 20th (an old Recyclers song).
Fujiwara is the real hero on
Thumbscrew's Convallaria (july 2015 - Cuneiform, 2016).
Halvorson's hard-rocking Cleome and
Hawaiian-esque ballad Inevitable are not particularly memorable, and
Halvorson's nine-minute Convallaria is actually highlighted more by Fujiwara's lengthy drum solo then by her arpeggiated minimalism.
Formanek's frenzied bass-guitar dialogue Tail of the Sad Dog
and his subdued eight-minute fantasia Spring Ahead do not amount to much, while his Danse Insense is mainly notable for the percussive noises that duet with the guitar.
The standouts are Fujiwara's Brazilian-flavored carnivalesque Barn Fire Slum Brew and Fujiwara's eight-minute Trigger, that begins recalling Peter Green's psychedelic jazz and then turns increasingly abstract and noisy, fading away in languid desolate wails.
As for Halvorson, she is more effective in the pieces composed by the others.
Notably, Formanek's menacing Screaming Piha is devastated by a maelstrom of horrible guitar noise.
The Out Louds (december 2014) documents a trio with
Ben Goldberg on clarinet and
Tomas Fujiwara on drums.
The six pieces of Illegal Crowns (may 2014) document a quartet with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet & flugelhorn), Benoit Delbecq (prepared & unprepared piano) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums).
Away With You (december 2015) documents Mary Halvorson's octet: Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto sax), Ingrid Laubrock ( tenor sax), Jacob Garchik (trombone), John Hebert (bass) and Ches Smith (drums).
Halvorson collaborated with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier on Crop Circles (august 2016).
Halvorson and Fujiwara also played in Mike Reed's Sun Ra-inspired ensemble Living By Lanterns for New Myth/Old Science (Cuneiform, 2012), on
cellist Tomeka Reid's debut album Tomeka Reid Quartet (Thirsty Ear) and
on clarinetist Ben Goldberg's The Out Louds (Relative Pitch).
And they also play in Taylor Ho Bynum's Thirteenth Assembly.