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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Mary Halvorson – Cloudward (Nonesuch Records, 2024)

By Don Phipps

Guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson has become a mainstay of the free music scene – her albums winning accolades for their innovative compositions and challenging abstractions. Cloudward is no exception – with eight compositions whose musical ideas seem never to touch the ground, but prefer, instead, to suspend themselves in mid-air.

Her choice of bandmates on this outing certainly help to make this happen. In addition to Halvorson, the sextet is comprised of Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Nick Dunston on bass, Jacob Garchik on trombone, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, and Patricia Brennan on vibraphone. The band is large enough to add colorful voicings to the outing yet small enough that each musician has the space to contribute. The sextet is even joined on “Incarnadine” by Laurie Anderson, who chips in on violin.

The dissonant and abstract tunes are not harsh or difficult. Instead, they are seasoned with just enough sauce to provide a tasty gumbo of sounds and effects. Each has its own captivating themes and there’s plenty of counterpoint to establish these themes in clever and enticing ways.

One can marvel at the way the group navigates the compositions both together and apart. Take the first number, “The Gate,” where Halvorson and O’Farrill open with joint guitar and trumpet over Dunston’s engaging bass. Or the abstract picking and electronics Halvorson uses on “The Tower,” which migrates into Brennan’s gentle vibraphone phrases. As the tune progresses, the music seems to disassociate, almost like a tapestry unraveling into different strands.

For variety, there’s the industrial rock found in “Desiderata,” with its electronic distortions and cascading guitar notes juxtaposed against the vibraphone arc, as Brennan’s lines pilot the turbulence like a moth flying in circles around some distant light. Fujiwara drives the bus forward with some excellent drum work underneath the eerie guitar and dream-like vibraphone phrases.

Perhaps the most fascinating number is the final one – “Ultramarine,” Dotson opens the piece with adroit maneuvering on the bass and he’s joined by Halvorson, whose twangy tones sound almost banjo-like. As the number moves forward, it develops a gentle swing, highlighted by the abstract bluesy chords created by Garchik’s trombone and O’Farrill’s trumpet atop Halverson’s arpeggios. O’Farrill’s contribution is particularly noteworthy – as his trumpet slides up and down the registers like butter on a hot skillet.

There’s more of course – from the odd time meter employed in “Unscrolling” to the discombobulated Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole effects generated by the group on “Incarnadine.” Cloudward certainly displays Halvorson and colleagues at their best – a stunning exhibition of musical ideas and fluid musicianship.


Flake said...

Fuck yas, hot trumpet butter!

Flake said...

Fuck yas, hot trumpet butter!