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Mary Halvorson / Joe Morris: Traversing Orbits

John Sharpe By

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Birds of a feather flock together might be the motto of acclaimed guitarist Mary Halvorson as she has made a habit of teaming up with fellow pickers on a series of dates. Prominent among them is The Maid With The Flaxen Hair: A Tribute to Johnny Smith (Tzadik Records, 2018) with Bill Frisell, but among others there are also encounters with Miles Okazaki on Paimon: Mary Halvorson Quartet plays Masada Book Two (Tzadik Records, 2017) and her part in Marc Ribot's Young Philadelphians to consider. But none of those sessions sounds anything like her renewed acquaintance with her one time teacher Joe Morris on Traversing Orbits.

Both players stick to unadorned electric guitar, with Halvorson eschewing the effects pedals she customarily exploits to such amazing ends. As a consequence it is actually harder than you might anticipate to tell who is contributing what, and there's no help forthcoming from the liners. The guess here is that the guitarist in the left channel, the one more prone to repeated phrases and figures in the lower register, is Halvorson, while the more abstract player in the right channel is Morris. That matches with the photo of the two on the sleeve, but it would be good to have it confirmed. No matter the origin, the fretwork frequently dazzles.

Both guitarists are superlative improvisers—witness Halvorson's decade long tenure with Anthony Braxton's various trios, sextets and larger groups, and Morris' 4 CD Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 (Riti, 2017) with the same man, as just one form of the evidence. Overall the nine joint improvisations present the two protagonists in almost constant dialogue. As always in such efforts the spotlight is continuously active, as the impetus shifts from one player to another. While tunes and steady tempos are absent, the end result is much less dissonant than might be expected. In fact so often do the two concur in terms of dynamics that a little more orneriness might not have gone amiss.

Nonetheless contrasts emerge, as in the spiky "Traces Of Three," where a passage of scrabbling fingerwork in the left channel takes place against a jagged holding pattern from the right. But such episodes pass quickly, as the feel of lead and support dissipates. Although it begins with a flurry of bent strings and sharp plucks, before moving onto a thicket of detuned twangs, "Semaphore" hits the outskirts of lyricsville by the four-minute mark and stays in the neighborhood for the rest of the cut. Other notable moments include the lovely close to "In Other Terms," as plosive, almost vocalized, notes nestle among melodic ruminations.

If you like your guitar adventurous and intense, but devoid of showboating, then this is pretty much heaven.

Track Listing: Brain Draft; Shivering Sunshine; Traces Of Three; Silence Invasion; Semaphore; Full Of Somehow; Constant Between; In Other Terms; Over The Line.

Personnel: Joe Morris: electric guitar; Mary Halvorson: electric guitar.

Title: Traversing Orbits | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Rogue Art

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