Mary Halvorson: Cloudward review | John Fordham’s jazz album of the month

(Nonesuch)
The Brooklyn jazz guitarist’s beautifully interwoven tracks are full of welcome surprises

The late great improviser/composer Kenny Wheeler once reported to the Guardian that what he liked doing best was “writing sad tunes, and then letting wonderful musicians destroy them”. The New York guitarist and new-music original Mary Halvorson (who, like Wheeler, was once a receptive disciple in the challenging bands of veteran boundary-buster Anthony Braxton) has also made a home in the turbulently dreamlike spaces where composition and the whims of improv meet. Lessons learned as a live improviser and off-stage as an imaginative student of musical form have created the rare artist she’s become.

In 2022, Halvorson’s already exalted reputation took a new leap with Amaryllis and Belladonna, albums respectively angled toward improv and written chamber music. Now comes Cloudward, a superb eight-piece set (reflecting in its title and moods the composer’s sense of liberation at the then-receding pandemic) for her sextet, joining guitar and Patricia Brennan’s vibraphone with trumpet, trombone, bass and drums, and the legendary Laurie Anderson on effects-violin for one track.

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