Mary Halvorson: Reverse Blue
NY-based guitarist Mary Halvorson's already got a handful of band projects on the go, what with the trio, quintet, and septet configurations she leads (not to mention the collective ensemble Thumbscrew and her duo with violist Jessica Pavone), so one wonders what would make her choose to complicate life further with yet another ensemble. It turns out that her Reverse Blue quartet came about a little bit by accident: the group originally formed for a one-off gig at the Blue Note as part of Search and Restore's “Spontaneous Constructions,” a series predicated upon establishing new collaborations, with Halvorson joined by Thumbscrew drummer Tomas Fujiwara plus two musicians with whom she'd not previously played, Chris Speed (clarinet, tenor sax) and bassist Eivind Opsvik. The results proved so collectively satisfying, the decision was made to keep the project alive, which in turn led to Halvorson composing a new collection of pieces specifically for the group and the debut recording the four laid down last December.
While Halvorson's distinctive writing and guitar playing make Reverse Blue sound very much like her band, the others make significant contributions. Four of the ten compositions are credited to them, and a major reason why this group sounds so different than her others is because of Speed's clarinet playing, which figures prominently throughout and lends the fifty-six-minute recording a timbral distinctiveness. That comes to the fore immediately in Halvorson's opening piece “Torturer's Reverse Delight” in the way it works a madrigal-styled character into its opening moments. But this graceful pas de deux between the guitarist's spidery lines and Speed's sax doesn't stick around for long but instead mutates into a heavier episode that sees Halvorson, abetted by an on-fire Fujiwara, indulging her raw side and unleashing scrabbly lines of molten skronk.
Like “Torturer's Reverse Delight,” the title track veers away from a familiar path in digging into a free-flowing jazz-funk zone, with once again the guitarist's lines interacting with Speed's woodsy clarinet soloing. The breezy back-and-forth between the two makes for one of the recording's primary pleasures—hear, for example, the slippery free flight the soloists undertake during Opsvik's “Rebel's Revue” and Halvorson's “Ego Man” and “Old Blue,” the ease with which they shadow each other and then reunite for the theme.
As with all such recordings, the music evidences both formal structure in the compositional writing and a freeform looseness rooted in the musicians' improv abilities. It's also an album of many moods, even if much of it's uptempo and buoyant. Emerging at the mid-point, Halvorson's “Hako” slows the pace for a ruminative dirge whose delicate textural design enables Opsvik's playing to be better appreciated, especially when he takes the piece out with a Haden-like solo turn; the similarly-restrained “Ordered Thoughts Ceased” also brings the quartet's contemplative side to the fore. Fujiwara and Opsvik provide a solid yet ever-shifting base for the lead soloists to liberally and comfortably range across. Though a bit more of the hellacious fire captured in “Torturer's Reverse Delight” would have been welcome, Reverse Blue is nevertheless a fine addition to Halvorson's ever-growing discography and will only add to the reputation she's progressively establishing. It'll certainly do nothing but enhance the CVs of the other band members, too.