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Mary Halvorson: Cloudward

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Mary Halvorson: Cloudward
The title of guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson's Cloudward alludes to the sense of optimism she has stated she felt when writing the bulk of the material in fall of 2022. And while this palpable sense of faith in the future is in marked contrast to the tangible air of eerie foreboding that surfaced so often on this LP's predecessors, the presence of largely the same personnel lineup—the Amaryllis Sextet— provides a stable link of continuity. The reappearance of prior collaborators recording engineer John Dieterich and artist/designer DM Stith solidify that effect.

Amaryllis (Nonesuch Records, 2022) and Belladonna (Nonesuch Records, 2022) stood on their own terms as well as companion pieces/mirror images of each other. Likewise, this sequel is simultaneously of a piece with those two releases, even as it remains a creation distinct unto itself. As the third project in a row involving virtually identical participants, it is hardly a surprise an effortless fluidity proceeds from that familiarity on all fronts.

As a matter of fact, the fittingly-titled first cut, "The Gate," finds the five players are fully in sync, with each other as well as with Halvorson. Mere suggestions of melodic and rhythmic motifs prevail throughout this forty-five minute duration, but rather than confounding, the approach compels (and duly rewards) close listening.

For instance, while Jakob Garchik's trombone or Adam O'Farrill's trumpet can provide a readily accessible outline of a given composition's structure, vibraphonist Patricia Brennan often takes the lead in embroidering upon the basic pattern. In this deceptively kinetic context, Halvorson herself is always at the ready to introduce new ideas, even as bassist Nick Dunston and drummer Tomas Fujiwara nurture all the exchanges with polite but firm insistence.

The action within "The Tower" also illustrates how patience abounds among those involved in the music of Cloudward. An exploratory guitar intro, angular to its core, gives way to gentle strumming, ornamented with vibes, then horns, all of which unfolds at an unhurried but nonetheless purposeful pace. The individual instruments then disperse to open up room for more spontaneous but similarly deliberate activity, so that, in the end, no idea goes unused.

During the course of such moments the individual players incrementally reveal a bit more of their respective styles on their instruments. But such displays as those on "Collapsing Mouth," to name just one, never come at the expense of other members of the sextet. The bandleader sets forth that tone of humble grace so that it fully permeates all the musicianship.

Accordingly, Mary Halvorson never intrudes upon such proceedings herself. "Unscrolling" is just one interval in which she depicts herself as fully confident in her own poise as that of her comrades. Consequently, she only needs to encourage by dint of her own playing, initiative she enacts with not a whit of self-consciousness.

Temperate as is most of Cloudward, there is a taut, subliminal dynamic in play that will not allow its sounds to subsist as mere background. The abrasive sawing of Dunston's bow, for instance, is every bit as attention-getting in its own way as the soft, warm glow off Brennan's mallets, the differences in sonic texture ultimately complementary as recorded and mixed by Dieterich in two days of sessions at Sear Sound, NYC.

Along those same lines, Laurie Anderson meshes her violin faultlessly into the mix of "Incarnadine." In subsequently short order, the caustic tones Halvorson coaxes from her electric guitar at the outset of "Desiderata" conjures a collective energy that sparks "Tailhead;" its placement as the penultimate cut not only highlights the implicit drama of the overall track sequencing, but also proffers an ideal set up for the closing of this album in the form of "Ultramarine."

This concluding progression, quietly celebratory as it is, applies the finishing touch on an effort of uncommon intelligence and multi-levelled nuance. As with the aforementioned graphic artist Stith's imagery on the outside cover—plus a two-sided poster enclosed in the double-fold CD sleeve of Cloudward—performances that initially appear daunting and impenetrable become welcoming and nurturing in very short order. There is no doubt time will also reveal and sustain an admirable durability too.

Track Listing

The Gate; The Tower; Collapsing Mouth; Unscrolling; Desiderata; Incarnadine; Tailhead; Ultramarine.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Cloudward | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records

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