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Mary Halvorson Septet: Illusionary Sea

Hrayr Attarian By

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Guitarist Mary Halvorson's Illusionary Sea is rich and intriguing filled with contrasting yet complementary motifs and patterns. Leading a septet of versatile and idiosyncratic musicians, Halvorson deftly entwines divergent musical threads into an elegant musical tapestry that bears her distinctive mark without overshadowing her band mates' individuality.

The elaborately constructed pieces allow ample room for spontaneity. They are not, however, a mere showcase of the soloists' prowess, but rather the written melody and the impromptu musical constructs meld into an inventive whole. The intense "Smiles Of Great Men (No. 34)" for instance, opens with Halvorson's furious strummed guitar followed by rumbling rhythms, and dramatic wind choruses. Out of this darkly laced, sonic bubbling cauldron, emerges Halvorson's stimulating and cleverly deconstructed European folk ballad. Tenorist Ingrid Laubrock's warm and blues-tinged saxophone expands contemplatively on the original theme while altoist Jon Irabagon's edgy acrobatics echo the intricacy of the composition and adds a whimsical edge to it.

The intimate and the expansive also coexist and parallel each other on this innovative record. "Red Sky Still Sea (No. 31)" opens with bassist John Hébert's hauntingly reverberating strings rebounding in silence. Halvorson's Spanish-tinged guitar together with trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson's long, burnished tones add a touch of romanticism to the ambience. Longing tones and percolating beats characterize the cinematic ensemble play that serves as a backdrop for Halvorson's lyrical and imaginative improvisation spiced with the right dash of atonality. Finyalson's mellow and poetic horn weaves long, silken notes around the main theme and his mesmerizing duet with Halvorson concludes the tune with subtle mysticism.

This kind of quiet spirituality marks Halvorson's, Zen extemporization on the somber yet mellifluous "Fourth Dimensional Confession (No. 41)." Her eastern leaning guitar perfectly balances Finyalson's western classical influenced trumpet.

This captivating disc not only appeals to the intellect but also has a primal emotional allure. A sophisticated angularity, for example, marks the tense dialogue between trombonist Jacob Garchik's expressive growl and resonant intonations and the lively and soulful bursts of group harmonies on the title track. This thoughtful and provocative piece has an undercurrent of visceral passion as manifested by drummer Ches Smith's fiery thuds and crashes and his colorful accents.

On this compelling, multifaceted work, Halvorson and her collaborators do not waste a single note yet they maintain the fervent vigor of ad lib creativity. Crackling with life, this album represents the perfect union of unbridled originality and ascetic maturity.

Track Listing: Illusionary Sea (#33); Smiles Of Great Men (#34); Red Sky Still Sea (#31); Four Pages Of Robots (#30); Fourth Dimensional Confession (#41); Butterfly Orbit (#32); Nairam.

Personnel: Mary Halvorson: guitar; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone; Ches Smith: drums; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor saxophone; John Hébert: bass; Jacob Garchik: trombone.

Title: Illusionary Sea | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Firehouse 12 Records

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