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Stephan Crump & Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper: Emerge

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From the moment Stephan Crump and Mary Halvorson played together they felt a musical rapport. The set of improvisation on 2013’s Super 8 bore this out by including music the bassist and guitarist recorded during their initial encounter at Crump’s home studio. With Emerge they take the next logical step. Both brought compositions to the session, all of them written with this duo setting in mind. The results give more grounding to the music without sacrificing the idiosyncrasies of their playing.

Before going into new work, however, Emerge begins with a non-original that sets the tone: Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do.” Played out of tempo, it retains its melodic sparkle even as Halvorson electronically warps the tune and Crump dexterously moves between double-stops and bowed lines. Time moves slowly in pieces like Halvorson’s “Disproportionate Endings,” with its long arco bass drones and fleeting guitar phrases. In contrast, Crump’s “Emerge” begins deliberately, but its two-chord foundation establishes a melancholy beauty evocative of a folk melody.

The interplay between Crump and Halvorson is mostly built on subtlety. The guitarist favors single-line melodies, which she warps with her signature use of pitch-bending and volume shifts. Only briefly, on “Turns to White Gold,” does she digress into skronk and power chords.

With all the open space in the music, Crump ensures that things never sound spare, playing with and against his collaborator, depending on the situation. To call Emerge more accessible than its predecessor doesn’t mean Secret Keeper has taken a more standard route. The duo simply offers more to hold on to during the ride.

Originally Published