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Departure of Reason

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Album Review

Departure of Reason is the fourth duo album by guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone and their second for Thirsty Ear. Given their remarkable history on previous recordings — most notably 2009's Thin Air — the unique musical vocabulary they've established together should come as no surprise. It is instinctive, formal, articulate, and full of subtleties, humor, and — even in song form — unique insight. The authorship of these ten tracks (three with vocals) was divided evenly and sequenced alternately over 53 minutes; the set was recorded in a single day. These proceedings blur boundaries between modern vanguard jazz, various folk forms, and structured improvisation, as exemplified by Halvorson's Gypsy flamenco-tinged set opener, "That Other Thing." Beautiful phrases, chord elocutions, and lithe cadenzas in minor modes all lead up to a gorgeous solo by Pavone. The droning viola that introduces Halvorson's humorously bent notes in Pavone's "Begin Again" sets the stage for a dreamy, nocturnal, stop-and-start dance that once more touches on Gypsy music, but in a more eclectic folk form. The guitarist's solo brings out a knotty set of arpeggios that indulge flamenco, jazz, and even rockist aggression. In "Saturn," the two women's voices alternate in smoky alto textures on the lyrics with Halvorson's chords finding the balance between the sung melody and Pavone's sweeping viola. "Ruth Romain" plays with jazz, even as it drapes a melody that comes from Italian and French folk traditions. "Onslaught" contrasts a pop/rock vamp with classical duet interplay. The elegant spaciousness in "New October" is sharply juxtaposed against wide-ranging dynamics and free improv skronk. "Ruin" begins as a simple nearly childlike song before it becomes a study in formal call-and-response modern composition with structured improvisation added for measure. "Why Should You Surrender?," another vocal track, takes the set out on a haunting yet expressionist vibe as single strings evolve into gracefully shared chords that give way to freewheeling improv before the stated theme returns to introduce the pair singing the lyrics in unison. The language on Departure of Reason is more refined, and more confidently articulated, than on any of their other recordings, allowing a more deeply etched territory for both these players to explore other aspects of their musical personas.


Born: 1980 in Boston, Massachusetts

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Electric guitarist Mary Halvorson plays new improvised music that touches on various avant-garde styles of jazz and rock. Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1980, she was determined to remove categories from the equations of her style, which range from experimental rock and modern creative music to noise. After studying near her home, she took classes at Wesleyan University, and then at the New School of Jazz & Contemporary Music upon a move to Brooklyn, New York in 2002. She then connected with an...
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Departure of Reason, Mary Halvorson
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