The art of artless falling – Mary Halvorson: Video, Photo

- in NEWS, VIDEOS, Woman in Jazz & Blues

When James Brown sang his “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” in 1966, he might also have the world of jazz guitar in mind. Because until a few years ago it was a purely male domain. The fact that this has changed in the meantime is not least thanks to Mary Halvorson, who is New York by choice.

During her numerous study visits, she was always the only woman who hit the fingerboard and often had to listen to: “Great for a woman!” Halvorson’s ideas and concepts stem from a kind of anti-guitar stance. She doesn’t like the officially queasy jazz guitar sound any more than the over-the-top virtuosity of the Gunslingers in rock. Perhaps that is why she does not name guitar colleagues as main influences, but wind instruments: “Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane and Miles Davis”.

Another noticeable feature: Anyone who sees pictures of Mary Halvorson with her guitar in her arms, wonders why the petite American had to fall in love with such a huge archtop guitar that looks almost bigger than herself. But her “Guild Artist Award” from 1970 offers her precisely the wealth of timbres that she needs to redefine the jazz guitar. This is why the instrument has its say in their latest, most ambitious project to date: The album “Artlessly Falling” by their band Code Girl – the name goes back to Anthony Braxton, who nicknamed Halvorson during a joint tour – looks like large-scale embroidery from texts and sounds.

The eight songs that Halvorson wrote for her sextet are based on certain poetic forms. Eight poems in the style of a Japanese Tanka and a Haibun, a Malay Pantun, a French Villanelle and a Sestina, an Arab Ghazel, a ‘found poem’ and a free variation – all of these strictly regulated constructs with their special rhymes and meters provide guidelines, which express themselves musically in fascinating rhythms, tempo and meter changes.

Anyone who thinks that such regulated jazz is a bloodless brainbirth will be taught better after the first notes of the opener “The Lemon Trees” at the latest. The exotic mutated waltz immediately develops a magical pull. This is not least due to the voice of art rock icon Robert Wyatt. Halvorson was able to get him out of his self-imposed retirement for three pieces. Wyatt’s solo albums with their dream-lost sounds and eccentric poetry had a lasting influence on her understanding of jazz: “Robert is one of my heroes – a true individualist and innovator.” His tender vulnerability, the fragility of his gentle mumbling and whispering charge the lines of text with a resistive melancholy: As Wyatt would insist on preserving childlike innocence and grace in spite of his seventy-five years.

The whole band sounds like a softly breathing organism. With the cooling balm of his trumpet lines, Adam O’Farrill ensures that bass, drums and guitar do not overheat in their discourses, while the movement path of Maria Grand’s saxophone playing is pacified in warming loops. Bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Thomas Fujiwara operate according to the doctrine of “flexible response”: Formanek creates the necessary trust for Halvorson’s excursions with a muscular bass tone, while Fujiwara clears her way on these tours. No matter whether she needs the brute energy of rock, a jazz pulse or nervous, introverted rattle noises.

MUSIKVIDEO:„Walls and Roses“ von Mary Halvorson
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