The widely celebrated 2010 debut of Mary Halvorson's Quintet, Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12), confirmed the young guitarist's growing reputation with a selection of urbane compositions as impressive as her idiosyncratic improvisations. Bending Bridges expands upon the previous album's concepts, offering further proof of Halvorson's burgeoning talent, reinforced by an even greater sense of accord within the ensemble.
Bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith once again support the vivacious frontline of trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and saxophonist Jon Irabagon, who join Halvorson's Trio for half the record, extrapolating a dizzying array of contrapuntal themes while gracefully navigating the capricious transitions of her modular structures. Halvorson's salient abilities as a composer are a defining feature of the session; her talent for crafting intricate arrangements that maintain a sense of organic cohesivenessdespite often jarring juxtapositionsis noteworthy.
Halvorson's labyrinthine pieces evolve with exacting precision; their fleetingly oblique melodies and sudden shifts in color, density and rhythm are mediated with sophisticated deportment. For example, the opener, "Sinks When She Rounds The Bend" implies the literal aspects of its title; after a stately fanfare and pair of understated solos from Halvorson and Hébert, the band gradually builds momentum until a frenetic collective climax coaxes the guitarist into a brash, Sonic Youth-inspired maelstrom, before the entire ensemble suddenly plummets into muted pointillism, sinking into aural oblivion.
Although Halvorson's multifaceted writing is a highpoint of the date, it ultimately serves to inspire her improvisational prowessand that of her sidemen. Making the most of a delay, distortion and volume pedal, she summons a bewildering array of prismatic tonalities, her spidery fretwork vacillating between effervescent ruminations and bursts of coruscating frenzyoften within the same tune. Yet Halvorson's unique method of bending tones and pitches with a delay unit is her most striking innovation, advancing the notion of blue notes with futuristic élan.
As longstanding associates of Halvorson's, Hébert and Smith negotiate all manner of dynamic tempo shifts, modulating time signatures and deconstructed interplay; their congenial rapport imbues a sense of stylistic continuity to an endless variety of rhythmic strategies, from the thunderous downbeats of "The Periphery Of Scandal" to the nervy syncopation of "Deformed Weight Of Hands." Finlayson and Irabagon conjure equally fascinating variations from these multihued numbers; on the epic "Love In Eight Colors" Finlayson's unaccompanied solo resounds with intervallic ingenuity while Irabagon fashions a series of quixotic lyrical motifs from controlled multiphonics.
Greater than the sum of its parts, Bending Bridges is another exemplary offering from Halvorson's Quintet, whose eclectic yet systematic efforts are as consistently challenging as they are appealing.
Sinks When She Rounds The Bend (No. 22); Hemorrhaging Smiles (No. 25); Forgotten Men In Silver (No. 24); Love In Eight Colors (No. 21); The Periphery Of Scandal (No. 23); That Old Sound (No. 27); Sea Cut Like Snow (No. 26); Deformed Weight Of Hands (No. 28); All The Clocks (No. 29).
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.