Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Departure of Reason (2011)
Sequenced in alternating fashion, authorship of the album's ten new songs is split evenly between Halvorson and Pavone. Though hailing from diverse backgrounds, their refined duet writing shares an aesthetic similarity inspired by longstanding friendship. Blurring the boundaries between Eastern European folk forms and modern jazz improvisation, Halvorson's lithe minor key opener, "The Other Thing," provides a consummate display of the pair's fraternal rapport; each sinuous turn of phrase and abrupt change in accompaniment reveals an ever deeper level of virtuosic interplay.
The duo's restricted instrumental palette reinforces the date's Spartan sensibility, providing their broad dynamic range with a distinct equilibrium, even on works like "Hyphen" and "New October," whose pithy call-and-response discourse and quicksilver mood shifts range from deconstructed pointillist ruminations to coruscating thrash interludes. Brief melodic hooks bolster pieces like "Onslaught" and "Ruin," demonstrating a knack for gracefully imbuing dissonant harmonies and odd phrase lengths with kernels of mesmerizing lyrical invention. The latter's yearning theme further accentuates one of the date's most impressively crafted compositionsa meticulous exercise in structured improvisation. Alternating solo orders, Halvorson, widely celebrated as the most original guitarist of her generation, plays with a modicum of restraint, gradually accentuating glassy arpeggios with otherworldly pitch bends and distorted power chords that infuse the number's austere acoustic ambience with raucous metallic fervor. Pavone complies in turn, her sinewy arco spinning bittersweet variations on the regal theme with a robust attack and sonorous tone.
Three of the songs include lyrics. "The Object of Tuesday," "Saturn" and "Why Should You Surrender" feature impressionistic refrains concordant with the tunes' oblique cadences and staggered meters. Lyrically, Halvorson and Pavone's poetic wordplay courts abstraction, yet their haunting altos convey the beguiling texts with honest emotional candor, tempering pretension with heartfelt sincerity. More sophisticated and confidently articulated than their previous duo efforts, Departure of Reason is a masterful example of cutting-edge creative improvised music that defies categorization.
Track Listing: That Other Thing; Hyphen; The Object of Tuesday; Begin Again; Onslaught; New October; Saturn; Ruth Romain; Ruin; Why Should You Surrender.
Personnel: Mary Halvorson: guitar, vocals; Jessica Pavone: viola, vocals.
Record Label: Thirsty Ear Recordings
Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde