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Mary Halvorson: Meltframe

Karl Ackermann By

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In a quietly forceful way, guitarist Mary Halvorson has cemented her place among the company of modern-day counterparts such as Eivind Aarset, Nels Cline and Terje Rypdal. The Brooklyn based composer/musician has performed with the likes of Anthony Braxton (both sharing credentials at Wesleyan University), cornet player Taylor Ho Bynum and the avant-garde group Trevor Dunn's Trio-Convulsant. Halvorson has recorded with trumpeter Nate Wooley, multi-reedist Jon Irabagon and Norwegian bassist Eivind Opsvik. The consistent factor in Halvorson's career to date, is a commitment to a progressive examination of content and approach.

In the liner notes for Halvorson's Meltframe, El Intruso's Sergio Piccirilli makes note of the guitarist's ..."vision to imagine new worlds...with the courage...to build them." It's a fine definitive statement. The album consists of covers ranging from the golden age of Duke Ellington to Halvorson's current cohort of colleagues such as bassist Chris Lightcap. Solo guitar recordings, while a new setting for Halvorson, are pretty commonplace, but the manner in which Meltframe opens may seem extreme to her followers and will certainly get one's attention.

Oliver Nelson's "Cascades" explodes in a brutal aggressiveness, more aligned to heavy metal than any genre and the melody and harmonies from Nelson's original from the classic The Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1961) obscured by Halvorson's thrashing electric guitar. Abruptly switching gears, Annette Peacock's "Blood" from I'm the One (RCA Records, 1972), loses both the brash bluesy element of the original and the opposing sensitivity of Marilyn Crispell's 1997 cover from Nothing Ever Was, Anyway: Music of Annette Peacock (ECM). In place of those treatments, Halvorson gives us technical mastery within her fast-paced and breezy playing, assigning an original feel to the score.

Halvorson uses some unconventional tweaking as she take the customary treatments of Ellington's "Solitude" and McCoy Tyner's "Aisha" along on her explorations, her fingerstyle acoustics brilliantly lighting up the pieces. Within the structure of Ornette Coleman's "Sadness" she interjects smeared notes and dissonant phrasing but doesn't stray too far from the core concept. The folky treatment of Carla Bley's "Ida Lupino" is one of the standout pieces on the album and the most straight-forward arrangement.

Halvorson manages to traverse some fairly radical style changes within the pieces on Meltframe, moving from elusive acoustic fingering to bone-rattling power chords as she does on Lightcap's "Platform." Yet, most of the pieces return to their roots intermittently and the diversions are not idle sentiment but inquisitive probes. Whether distorted or poignant, Meltframe is a uniquely complex collection from one of our finest artists.

Track Listing: Cascades; Blood; Cheshire Hotel; Sadness; Solitude; Ida Lupino; Aisha; Platform; When; Leola.

Personnel: Mary Halvorson: guitar.

Title: Meltframe | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Firehouse 12 Records

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