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Given her diverse work with Anthony Braxton, Trevor Dunn and Mike Pride, her duos with Jessica Pavone and Kevin Shea and a number of other projects, guitarist Mary Halvorson might have gone any number of directions with her debut as a bandleader. Safe bet it would include some precise, proficient playing, probably some jagged edges and maybe some noise. But in the last few years Halvorson has shown there to be a number of tricks up her sleeve.
With Dragon's Head, she seems to have decided to go all directions at once and quite tidily. She wrote the ten pieces on the disc specifically for the bandJohn Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drumsand they rise well to what's been put before them. While some of her projects have leaned toward avant rock and sui generis song, Dragon's Head is an instrumental record of slippery jazz. The first track, "Old Nine Two Six For Two Dies (No. 10)" (showing her commitment to the band project, the tracks are numbered to show the order they were composed in) is the last piece she wrote for the album and jazziest cut on the disc, a laid back number with plenty of melody, her electric guitar almost pianistic at times. It serves not so much as a framework in its placement here but as a departure point for the rest of the record.
The disc quickly nosedives (quite gloriously) into rockier glades. The second track introduces her deft use of effects, heavy distortion and rubbery pitch-shifting. The rest of the album is dedicated to charting the grounds between: extreme layering of tempos; unison passages that pound a different punk-prog than has been heard before and unaccompanied solos (by all three) that challenge as much as the composed segments do. But remarkably Dragon's Head never feels de-contextualized; the rugs might change, but they're not pulled out from under you.
Track Listing: Old Nine Two Six Four Two Dies (No. 10); Monentary Lapse (No. 1); Screws Loose (No. 8); Scant Frame (No. 2); Sweeter Than You (No. 4); Sank Silver Purple White (No. 5); Too Many Ties (No. 6); Totally Opaque (No. 7); Dragon's Head (No. 9); April April May (No. 3).
Personnel: Mary Halvorson: guitar; Josh Herbert: bass; Ches Smith: drums.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.