Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

The Gig: Mary Halvorson

Home alone

Mary Halvorson at Undead Jazzfest 2010

Simple addition has so far defined the arc of Mary Halvorson’s solo career. Handily one of the most unmistakable guitarists to emerge within the last decade of improvised music, she made her breakthrough six years ago with a stark and scintillating trio album, Dragon’s Head, on Firehouse 12 Records. Subsequent work on the same label has incrementally expanded her canvas: to a quintet, on albums from 2010 and 2012, and a septet, on last year’s superb Illusionary Sea. When I saw the septet in action at this year’s Winter Jazzfest, its chamberlike sweep seemed to confirm my grasp of Halvorson’s creative direction: toward greater orchestration, layered interaction, a strategic marshaling of forces. So I was caught slightly off-guard by the completeness and intensity of a solo performance one night this spring, featuring nothing more than Halvorson, a few effects pedals and her trademark hollowbody Guild guitar.

The occasion was an opening set at the Greenwich Village club Le Poisson Rouge, preceding the album-release show for Macroscope, the latest by the Nels Cline Singers. The room was packed, and I’d venture that some in the crowd, though clearly enamored of Cline and his expansive guitar wizardry, had never before encountered Halvorson or her music. She took the stage with an awkward disclaimer, dryly noting that she’d just returned from Europe and was functioning from within a fog. But as she sat down and began her set, with an almost classical composure, the air around her grew very still and clear, and so did the atmosphere in the club.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published