Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone: Departure of Reason

Steve Greenlee reviews the collaboration between the guitarist and violinist

One gets the sense that the music goes wherever whimsy takes guitarist Mary Halvorson and violinist Jessica Pavone. Their tunes are composed beforehand, but there are so many twists, turns and abrupt shifts that the structure can’t be planned entirely. Too, their music is insanely hard to pin down: It draws from jazz, folk, rock, modern classical and even medieval-sometimes all in one song, or so it seems.

Departure of Reason is the pair’s fourth album together, and it is an inaccessible delight. They open with “That Other Thing,” a tune that manages to blend proto-punk guitar strumming with the type of fiddling that feels like the bridge between early music and traditional Celtic. On “Hyphen,” Pavone bows monochromatically and Halvorson picks an ascending scale; then things get gruff, with distortion and unrestrained use of effects that resemble the dramatic pitch-bending normally achieved with a whammy bar. Halvorson solos fancifully over Pavone’s violin drone on “Begin Again,” intentionally marring her performance by bending pitches-something she does again and again throughout the album.

No genre is off-limits. Avant-garde, neoclassical and metal join forces on “Ruin.” “New October” begins like a funeral dirge but evolves into an arthouse noisefest. The women sing on a few songs, too. “In the city city city city city of events,” they intone in unison on “The Object of Tuesday,” Halvorson strumming muted strings as Pavone bows the same two notes over and over. What does this mean? Who knows? What’s the unifying element of this bizarre but joyous album? It’s hard to say. Maybe the whole idea is about the freedom to do what you want to do.