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Jessica Pavone: Songs of Synastry and Solitude

Troy Collins By

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Violist and composer Jessica Pavone has been a fixture on the New York scene for over a decade. Her work alongside Randy Brecker, Mary Halvorson and Taylor Ho Bynum has been well documented, revealing her skills as an inventive interpreter and improviser. Her own writing, on the other hand, has only been selectively recorded, and is often shared with collaborators like Halvorson and released on small independent labels.

Songs of Synastry and Solitude is Pavone's highest profile release as a composer to date, demonstrating her flair as a lyrical writer and supple orchestrator. Featuring four members of the Toomai String Quintet, Pavone arranges eleven engaging miniatures for an unconventional string quartet of violin, viola, cello and double bass, embracing the widest range of tonalities the format affords.

Influenced in part by Leonard Cohen's Songs of Love and Hate (Columbia, 1970), many of these tuneful pieces were inspired by folk, gospel, and soul, rather than traditional Western classical forms. Eschewing the atonal dissonances championed by the serialists, Pavone instead embraces time-honored string quartet techniques to render these compact meditations—including counterpoint, syncopation, equal interplay, unison themes, octave leaps and rubato tempos. Though inspired by folk music, these pieces still bear the influence of classical forms, especially the innovations of the Romantic composers—more so than traditional blues, jazz or rock structures.

The lush harmonies of "Here And Now, Then And Gone" and the understated counterpoint of "Darling Options" summon emotional resonance worthy of the Romantic era, while the austere chorale sensibility of "It's Come To This" conjures a spiritual air reminiscent of Arvo Part's hypnotic post-minimalism. The subtle double- stops of "Once Again," the languid waltz-time of "There's No Way To Say," and the sweeping legato melody of "Waiting Room" are indicative of the album as a whole, offering stately ruminations with concise economy. Only "Ruala" and "Hope Dawson Is Missing" flirt with harsh angles and thorny intervals, enriching their underlying drama with subtle dissonances akin to Beethoven's late period string quartets.

A straightforward contemplation on the power of song, Songs of Synastry and Solitude is a timeless collection of elegant themes from a young composer of significant merit.


Track Listing: Here And Now, Then And Gone; Darling Options; Once Again; There's No Way To Say; Housework; It's Come To This; Ruala; Waiting Room; Wednesday's Rules; The Harbinger; Hope Dawson Is Missing.

Personnel: Amie Weiss: violin; Erin Wight: viola; John Popham: cello; Andrew Roitstein: double-bass.

Title: Songs of Synastry and Solitude | Record Label: Tzadik

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