Last year, Mary Halvorson was credited as an instrumentalist on eight releases. Two years prior, she was on eleven; the year before that, eighteen. Ever the versatile guitarist, each collaboration sees her slipping into any number of roles stylistically. Her 2015 solo release Meltframe, however, finds her unaccompanied for the first time, and channeling the sounds of an entire band through a singular guitar. In anticipation of her solo performances on February 11, as the inaugural artist for this year’s Sound Horizon series, it seemed appropriate to make a listening mix to showcase the many aspects of Halvorson’s craft.
1. Mary Halvorson Quintet – “Hemorrhaging Smiles” (2012)
Halvorson’s ensembles began with her 2008 trio of bassist John Herbert and drummer Ches Smith. As she’s expanded to a quintet and, more recently, a septet, the precision of this talented rhythm section continues to drive her compositions, taking center stage near this piece’s 17 minute mark in respite from the easygoing brass harmonies at its start.
2. Anthony Braxton – “Composition No 350 – Part 5” (2007)
Studies at Wesleyan with prolific composer Anthony Braxton lead Halvorson to become a valued member of Braxton’s ensembles, including the 12+1tet whose 2006 performance at the Iridium club he referred to as “the point of definition in my work thus far.” Halvorson’s arpeggiated duet with vibraphone that begins this excerpt is just one highlight in the sprawling, nine-hour performance.
3. Nels Cline, Mary Halvorson, and Ches Smith – Live at Medienkulturhaus (Wels, Austria) (2005)
While the trio has never recorded together, one can’t help but wish for more from Halvorson, her Trio/Quintet drummer Smith, and Wilco guitarist/Walker favorite Cline. The group has an amazing energy that adds a strength and tension to this inconspicuously ambient, Dirty Three-esque improvisation.
4. Kristo Rodzevski – “Kadife” (2015)
New York-based composer Kristo Rodzevski enlisted the help of several free improvisers in creating Batania, his melancholic yet breezy jazz-pop debut. Halvorson’s electric guitar takes a backseat to bouncy strings and brushed cymbals, which allows her solo (beginning at 2:45) to aptly punctuate Rodzevski’s Macedonian-sung verses and a trumpet solo by frequent collaborator Kirk Knuffke.
5. People – “The Lyrics Are Simultaneously About How The Song Starts And What The Lyrics Are About” (2014)
People, which Halvorson formed as a duo with drummer Kevin Shea in 2005, gives jazz prowess a backseat to plainly chaotic Melt-Banana style noise rock; but their third record saw the addition of both Crystal Stilts bassist Kyle Forester and a sense of humor. This particular track is the peak of its self-referential irreverence, both lyrically and in the time signature arithmetic lesson at its center.
6. Mary Halvorson – “Ida Lupino” (2015)
Meltframe is Halvorson’s first truly solo outing, with ten reinterpretations of tunes by both icons and contemporaries. As Marvin Lin observes, “Halvorson’s guitar-voice opens the conversation, gesturing toward the mirror while displacing itself historically”. This reverent solitude, new for both piece and performer, reshapes styles as disparate as Oliver Nelson’s frenzied hard bop and Annette Peacock’s synthesized soul. A rare sense of tenderness, too, is revealed in her rendition of Carla Bley’s “Ida Lupino“, only further confirming the multitudes embodied by one woman and her guitar.