The inhabitant of diverse compositional and improvisational neighbourhoods, Jessica Pavone has already demonstrated with a preceding solo outing on this label – 2009’s Songs Of Synastry And Solitude – her ability in turning the basic structure of a song into a charming, occasionally daring orchestration. The eight chapters comprised by this cycle confirm that there is no need to shout to convey the scents of an uneasy reality; refined action by skilled instrumentalists (members of the Toomai String Quintet plus Emily Manzo on voice, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Tomas Fujiwara on percussion) and cryptically incisive lyrics penned by Pavone jointly yield several moments of unpretentious aural gratification, a bit of head scratching and, in general, a sensation of not-completely-solved problem. The same kind of feeling that lingers on when a couple goes through issues generating unrepairable cracks subsequently masked by an apparent normality.
Manzo’s singing is not one to fall in love with at first hearing, yet her somewhat doleful delivery ends being almost perfect for the type of vibe that most of this music transmits. Pavone has a way with distributing information across a score in singular fashion: where a listener would expect a vocal detail to appear, something else occurs instead. And that particular word may perhaps be pronounced a minute later, in improbable sections of the piece. Some of the tunes mirror the composer’s interest in contemporary chamber designs, whereas others retain a visible semblance of harmonic simplicity and might be thought as the reason behind a slight inhomogeneity in certain parts of the album if compared with the classiest contrapuntal conceptions. At any rate, it’s all part of a coherent entirety: human frailty, guilty silences, solitary ruminations and sudden brief openings to light. Pavone’s vision manages to reflect all of the above, and a silly list of strengths and weaknesses would totally miss the point of a work that is unlikely to strike a superficial audience, but contains numerous well-disguised hints to potentially life-wrecking matters. The delightful acoustic dress does help in swallowing those bitter pills of truth.