Announced from all sides as the “new thing” in contemporary jazz’s register of innovative guitarists, Mary Halvorson – who’s used to be surrounded by artists on the same level as Anthony Braxton, Jessica Pavone, Nate Wooley and Elliott Sharp – is indeed a musician gifted with a sturdy personality, immediately evident by listening to this set with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith. Halvorson utilizes a clean timbre, only rarely blemished by effects and even more infrequently invading the territories where “overdrive” is the keyword – listen to “Momentary Lapse” to recognize that mayhem is not beyond reach for this lean (and sometimes mean) girl.
In a recent magazine feature, Halvorson reportedly affirms to have “thrown caution to the wind” while composing these tracks, as she did her best to forget about the limitations of what was taught at school in regard to “jazz notions”. This notwithstanding, the whole of Dragon’s Head remains absolutely intelligible, its unique schemes visible at a first glance but instantly forgotten when the trio shift gears to full-throttle improvisation mode. “Scant Frame” is a gorgeous example in that sense, beginning with a logic of skewed discretion that soon mutates into a series of disobedient runs towards the disintegration of conservatism, truly electrifying if ever kept in check by Halvorson’s inside watchdog of compositional order.
To realize how far this music gets from tradition, think that the monster whose icon popped up in my mind was a mixture of Sonny Sharrock, Emily Remler and Forever Einstein, the latter evoked by the incredibly emaciated yet extremely functional themes of pieces like “Sank Silver Purple White”, which remind me of Charles Vrtacek O’ Meara’s angularly basic linear exposition. Hebert and Smith form a natural partnership with Halvorson (their work in “Too Many Ties” is alone worth of the whole effort ), a feel justified by the perceivable consistency of musicians who sound more as a strong-minded three-headed unit than a “rhythm section plus guitar star” inflexible commonplace. In a nutshell, unrepentant and respectful at once.
Play loud – there’s meat for everyone here – and yes, this young lady is definitely for real.