Monday, December 27, 2010

Best Album Of 2010: Mary Halvorson

JazzWrap revisits our favourite albums of 2010.

Mary Halvorson (guitar)
Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 Records; 2010)

So when I first wrote about Mary Halvorson a few months back I enthusiastically said I was addicted to her music and her latest release, Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 Records). Since then I have acquired a boat load of other releases featuring Halvorson; including the spectacular trio album from drummer Tom Rainey, which features some phenomenal playing from Halvorson.

But let's stay focused on the real album at hand. Saturn Sings is a powerful statement from a guitarist who really stands high and above most of her contemporaries, even if a large majority of the jazz public doesn't know who she is...yet.

Saturn Sings features the same trio from her first album as leader, Dragon's Head (Ches Smith (drums) and John Hebert (bass))now expanded into a quintet with Jon Irabagon on sax and Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet. This adds a little more body and rhythm to some of the recordings. But it doesn't interfere with free flowing atmosphere of the original group. In fact I think it gives the musicians more strength and room to breath or expand on different themes.

Halvorson is still the leader but allows the band to do some of the talking as on "Mile High Like" which Irabagon, Finlayson and Smith rip through notes while Halvorson's floats above and sometimes just underneath the rhythm. This is one the best examples of how this quintet melds together beautifully throughout Saturn Sings.

"Crack In Sky" and more importantly "Moon Traps In Seven Rings" are almost ballad-esque, with a loose abstract construction from Halvorson. Finlayson is the standout on "Moon Traps In Seven Rings" until about two thirds of the way in when Halvorson takes a Marc Ribot like solo and the group returns to the original melody. This is a great piece of writing. "Crack In Sky" sees Irabagon and Halvorson interplay beautifully--displaying Mary Halvorson can combine tradition and avant garde into something magical (similar to her mentor Anthony Braxton).

"Sea Seizure" again expresses the more indie-rock leaning side of Halvorson. It's a groove-laden track with aggression and agitation that could sit alongside anything Sonic Youth or Praxis could write. The title track, "Saturn Sings" opens with marching order-like quality led by Halvorson and Smith, only to return to a wonderful group dynamic played out by the rhythm section. Saturn Sings is an album that is another step up for Mary Halvorson in song writing, leadership and performance.

You may have noticed the headline of today's entry was slightly different. I purposely don't like to rank my "Best Albums" because I feel its too difficult to make your deciding factors on how they should be ranked. So I'd rather just talk about them. But in the case of Mary Halvorson's Saturn Sings--I have made the rare judgement that this by far is my #1 Album Of The Year.

I wanted to talk about it early in the week in case a lot of you are not around towards the end of week/year. The sooner you know about this album the better. If you want an album and an artist that is going to knock you socks off or change your thoughts on what the guitar means to jazz, than Mary Halvorson's Saturn Sings is the place you should start. Beyond Highly Recommended.

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