Produced and mixed by John Dieterich, with complementary cover art of paintings by DM Stith, the two companion pieces constituting the Nonesuch Records debut by Brooklyn-based guitarist, composer and MacArthur fellow Mary Halvorson restore truth to the often-cliched phrase 'the complete package.' Amaryllis features master improvisers in the company of a string quartet rendering arrangements devised to continually freshen explorations of the material. Meanwhile, Belladonna is a set of challenging compositions written specifically for the guitar in conjunction with that same foursome. In keeping with the multi-leveled meanings of the album titles, each record in its own way reaffirms how self-motivated and purposeful is this adventurous artist, an object lesson in how skillfully she seeks and finds those very same attributes in collaborators, then engages with them to enliven those virtues in a musical context to their fullest possible extent.
The pronounced rhythmic approach within this six-song suite appears first in the double-vinyl configuration, but still provides a readily identifiable link between these two albums, no matter the order in which they are played. Mary Halvorson finds her own level within the motion of the eleven-piece ensemble, inserting angular guitar lines that alternately contrast and complement the multiple instruments around her. Over the course of a playing time eerily comparable to its counterpart, Amaryllis thus becomes a visceral experience, one oddly (and almost unnervingly) compelling precisely because its tone(s) and mood(s) so clearly mirror its companion piece. To that end, elements of whimsy pervading "Hoodwink," for instance, leaven the atmosphere of the material in such a way that an accessible quality arises to mitigate the otherwise latent foreboding.
Alternately reflective and frenetic, these five compositions work equally well as the means to prepare for, or decompress from, the intense listening experience of these two unified projects. Halvorson's precise guitar improvisations both augment and counterpoint the ebb and flow of the strings, the inexorable result of which action ultimately conjures a tangible dreamlike state. Yet even as the rigor of the structured arrangements provides the means to liberate the musicians in their improvisation(s), the ensemble retains its innate grasp of gravity for guidance. As a result, the sense of dislocation arising from this title track never becomes dangerous, but instead an enticing means to repeated listening. The experience of hearing this album and its counterpart becomes the blueprint for conjuring a welcoming attitude toward change comparable to that of the artists themselves.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Night Shift; Anesthesia; Amaryllis; Side Effect; Hoodwonk; 892 Teeth.
Personnel: Mary Halvorson: guitar; Patricia Brennan: vibraphone: Nick Dunston: bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums; Jacob Garchik: trombone; Adam O'Farrill: trumpet; The Mivos Quartet -Olivia De Prato: violin; Maya Bennardo: violin; Victor Lowrie Tafoya: viola; Tyler J. Borden: cello.
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