Firehouse 12

By looking closely at Mary Halvorson’s countenance I can’t help but notice the same look of inquisitive tenacity typical of another eminent female instrumentalist, Iréne Schweizer. Both artists – though at completely different points of their careers and life – produce music whose strongest assets are intelligent concision and stubborn refusal of platitude. In that sense, it is curious to read that many of Halvorson’s titles come from scribblings of semi-coherent conceptions envisioned while falling asleep. They are amusing indeed – how about “Hemorrhaging Smiles”? At any rate, the idea of “bending bridges” rather makes one reflect on the leader’s guitar style: obliquely coiled chords, diagonal scales and sudden over-driven rowdiness surprising listeners during scores already brimming with crisscross interaction and extensive stretches for each member’s improvising skills.

The quintet is identical to the one that had performed on 2010’s Saturn Sings: Jon Irabagon on tenor sax, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, John Hébert on bass and Ches Smith on drums. Halvorson declares an improved connection between the bandmates after two years of closeness, besides adding that she has recently listened to a lot of guitarists – from older and younger breeds – to see how the instrument fits in various orchestral/compositional contexts. The four sound tight when expanding her utterly un-memorizable awkward themes; they also act as effective opposites in the sections where a series of firmly picked notes would appear to be enough to explicit a musical thought. Irabagon and Finlayson walk across the parts with incisive figurations, now and again gambling with the most discordant traits of the melodic conjugation. Hébert and Smith jeopardise the attractive force of “official” pulses and accents, imprinting a body’s inherent aptitude with a sturdier type of vibrational wallop. When the group explodes into fusillades of jolting mayhem, it’s the logical consequence of a process. Creative tension is a crucial factor in the evolution of this difficult to categorize, but definitely impressive music.

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