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by Seth Colter Walls

April 29, 2015

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Get Up With: Mary Halvorson's Guitar

by Seth Colter Walls  |  April 29, 2015

As a student of Anthony Braxton -- a composer who presents evening-length solo performances as well as pieces for 100 tubas -- guitarist Mary Halvorson learned the value of writing for groups of all sizes. She started recording bands as a leader in 2008, with the trio album Dragon's Head. The spiky quality of her playing on that release -- you can hear it on the track "Scant Frame" -- brought Halvorson a new level of attention.

On the follow-up, she wasted no time developing her language further. By adding sax and trumpet to the core band, she expanded her ensemble to a quintet for the albums Saturn Sings and Bending Bridges. Her quintet compositions, such as "Mile High Like" and "Hemorrhaging Smiles," often have a charming melodic quality, even when the improvisations reach white-hot levels of intensity. (And Halvorson still occasionally sneaks in power trio tunes like the indie rock-ish "Sea Seizure.")

In 2013, the guitarist expanded again (with trombone and an additional sax) to a septet. Illusionary Sea is the result: an album packed with idiosyncratic harmonies (seek out "Smiles of Great Men"), noise-drenched guitar ("Four Pages of Robots") and crisp rhythmic attack ("Butterfly Orbit"). Since then, Halvorson has developed her duo-improv game by continuing to record with bassist Stephan Crump, under the name Secret Keeper. That outfit's second record, Emerge, is out this month from Intakt Records, and reveals new textures for the guitarist (just check out the nearly straight blues she plays in the final minutes of the title track). Along with Halvorson's latest outfit, Reverse Blue -- a collaborative-composition group that includes multi-reedist Chris Speed -- Halvorson's output is only becoming more varied, and more interesting over time. So click play on our mix, and enjoy!

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