Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Mary Halvorson Quartet - Paimon: Book of Angels 32 (Tzadik, 2017)

It is great to hear Mary Halvorson get a crack at John Zorn’s Masada song book. This is the final album in the epic series The Book of Angels featuring the last ten unrecorded compositions in the songbook. Over the past decade Halvorson has blossomed as a guitarist, composer and bandleader into one of the most exciting players on the creative music scene. On this album, she is joined by Drew Gress on bass, Tomas Fujiwara on drums and fellow guitarist Miles Okazaki. This twin guitar lineup is outstanding, and their sounds and approaches to improvisation are like minded with enough differences to spark some very powerful performances. With her spidery and dexterous playing juxtaposed against Fujiwara’s more expansive nature the guitarists make for a formidable front line, and the elastic bass and drums keep an ever-shifting rhythmic counterweight, anchoring the band’s excellent improvisations. "Chaskiel" opens the album with a nimble and pulsating feel, the tight team cascades forward with a sense of confident propulsion. The interplay between the two guitars is impressive as is the buoyant bass and nimble drumming. The guitars skitter and slash, creating a complex but enjoyable sound platform, and building an exciting improvised performance. There is a fine ballad performance on "Verchiel" where Fujiwara shows great subtlety and tact while using brushes to develop a fine rhythmic balance, aided by taut bass playing which allows open space to become apparent and gives the guitarists an opportunity to cavort in the free zone the rhythm team develops. On the other hand, "Beniel" has a rolling drums introduction that propels the rest of the band forward to build snarling guitar mixed with cleaner more fluid lines, creating a very interesting weave and texture for the improvisation to build on. Effects pedals add a gonzo jazz fusion injection of energy, while the bass and drums crash and roll like dancers in the pit. Science fiction like bursts of electronic sounds nearly in overdrive open up space for a fine rattling and clanking drum solo, before the band deftly returns to the theme and bows out. "Ruhiel" has a more serious thematic statement, one that has a colorful palate of sounds, and the band makes use of them in a collective improvisation that waxes and wanes in tone and intensity, and allowing the members of the band to develop a deep and empathetic connection. There is a slinky and appealing melody to "Dahariel" that has a sense of openness that clearly appeals to the band. Slowing down and playing with grace and dignity they gradually advance through the performance, dynamically up-shifting their momentum as the push and pull of the music develops its own momentum, and leads to a powerful conclusion. I'm certainly sad to see the Book of Angels series end, but it was given a grand sendoff by this excellent band playing the music with dexterity and style. Paimon: Book of Angels 32 -

Send comments to Tim.