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MARY HALVORSON – CLOUDWARD (2024) (Nonesuch)

‘The Gate’ is a powerful opener, Patricia Brennan’s vibes coming to the fore; trombonist Jacob Garchik also contributing grandly; challenging, engaging, at times quirky rhythms, Halvorson’s guitar preferring to stay in the background for now. The 8 minute long “Tower” is introduced by the twangy, echoey, detuned guitar sound Halvorson has made her own, as she embarks on double-tracked fluid runs, giving a ‘twilight zone’ feel; the mood changes with gentle vibes accompanying subtle guitar chording, staccato trumpet phrases, a vibes solo; another change, veering towards the avant-garde. ‘Collapsing Mouth’ illustrates again what a leading role Patricia Brennan plays. ‘Desiderata’ finds Halvorson back in the frontline as repeated chords cradle the vibes, a laid back but effective rhythm section in bassist Nick Dunston and drummer/ percussionist Tomas Fujihara carry the beat; then, a jolt as Halvorson’s trebly guitar suddenly becomes all crunchy, like ROBERT FRIPP, as she unleashes a ferocious solo. Those of a rock inclination will applaud. The brass fuelled ‘Tailhead’ has a nice melody, and stops suddenly, too soon perhaps. An impassioned trumpet solo and another 8-minute exploration, ‘Ultramarine’, conclude the album; this has solo acoustic bass at the start, a simple addictive motif based on a handful of bass-led notes, another vibes solo.


The least successful parts of the album for me are the more avant-garde ones such as ‘Unscrolling’ with its scrapy violin. Overall, I don’t find Mary Halvorson’s music the easiest to get in to; I expected more guitar, but then again what comes across is a genuine band endeavour rather than a solo album; in terms of composition, perhaps more melodies and development of themes and less quixotic dalliances are needed.

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