Sifter Review on Free Jazz Collective blog by Martin Schray

Sifter Review The Freejazz Collective

By Martin Schray

After I had come across Mary Halvorson for the first time (I saw her with Anthony Braxton’s Diamond Curtain Wall Trio) I looked for her on youtube and immediately found some absolutely excellent clips. That’s why I was wondering all the more why some of the comments below the clips were harshly offensive: “Horrible garbage! Sounds like they have never met or rehearsed”; “I can't believe this crap is subsidized!”, “Her command over the guitar is very amateur and weak” or “I don't know how any jazz fan can defend this utter shit” – and this is just the peak of the contributions.

Since then I have seen and heard Mary Halvorson quite often and it is obvious that these commentators have no idea what a great guitar player is. She is one because her approach to use the tremolo, with which she warps chords or melodies before they get too convenient, is absolutely unique and above all she has a tremendous, yet special technique.

These typical Halvorson elements run like a thread through this album. “Cramps”, the first track, starts with an alienated, abstract country/rockabilly riff which is elegantly and sparsely accompanied by Matt Wilson (dr) and Kirk Knuffke (tr) can throw in a very light-handed melody in front of this background. Yet after two minutes Halvorson steps on the distortion module and puts the track through the mill before they all come back to the theme from the beginning. This is almost classic modern jazz songwriting.

Additionally, Halvorson has a great command of almost every style. In “Dainty Rubbish” she brings in flamenco pieces, country elements, and rock chords, all played in a very minimalist way, there is no note too much. In general there are a lot of typical (post) modern jazz tunes on the album, there is a lot of unison playing between Halvorson and Knuffke, as in “Don Knotts” with its eerie swinging theme, “Proper Motion” with its chopped post-rock beginning or the classic hard bop “Free Jazz Economics” which soon changes to classic harsh jazz chords, the other returning structural element of the album because Halvorson’s chords and riffs prepare the ground for Knuffke’s varied and virtuosic playing, the interplay between the three musicians is simply sensational.

Hidden between all these great tracks there are two gems: “Absent Across Skies” and “Forever Runs Slow in Cold Water”, two angular ballads. Both show Halvorson in a Bill Frisell tradition at the beginning, before she executes what she can do best – using the tremolo to distract the way the nice melody is going, leading it to dissonant and unexpected grounds before bringing them back on the right track again.

You can say a lot about Mary Halvorson but you cannot vilify her claiming she cannot play. These negative comments only prove that these people have a preconceived opinion of what music should be like.