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Mary Halvorson and quartet sonically shine in Art of Jazz concert

You can trace the musical “bloodlines” of guitarist Mary Halvorson’s group through an impressive chart of more than a decade’s worth of important, cutting edge jazz outfits.

She’s worked with Mark Ribot and Tim Berne but her time spent playing in a couple of Anthony Braxton’s bands may have made the biggest impact on her approach to music.

Halvorson’s compatriots in Reverse Blue (reed player Chris Speed, bassist Elvind Opsvik, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara) have worked with her in other settings and with other leaders but, as members of this particular quartet, they’ve helped create some of the most consistently interesting jazz music of the past decade.

Now, having said that and despite playing to a nearly full house during their concert on Sunday as part of the Art of Jazz series at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, it doesn’t mean that Halvorson and company are breaking attendance records and playing arenas. Their musical ideas inhabit a space separate from the norm and play best to a specific audience, one willing to hear sonic experiments which frequently venture into under-explored realms.

Most of the 90-minute set list consisted of a dozen pieces of music, some of them with roots in the project that gave Reverse Blue its name – plus a couple of extra tunes tacked onto the program for good measure.

The concert began with “Torturer’s Reverse Delight,” “Reverse Blue” “and “Hako,” establishing Halvorson’s sonic palette, along with a penchant for providing a subtly intriguing backdrop for her associates. It was the kind of support where her instrumental voice, as much as it floated between the spaces left in a sea of group symbiosis, was never overshadowed.

OK. That sounds like a bit of critic’s fluff but it was meant to broach the way the musicians interacted with each other. Halvorson was the leader, her name was the draw, and she wrote most of the music played – although Speed, Opsvik and Fujiwara all contributed works played. What happened, though, was a group effort where like-minded intellects played their parts with impressive grace and bonhomie.

There were moments when Speed’s clarinet (or saxophone) and Halvorson’s guitar ran phrases in tandem before winding around each other. You could say the same thing about the interplay of the Opsvik/Fujiwara rhythm section.

The result was a bit like listening to an audible DNA structure. This was a quartet created from a deceptively simple lineup of subunits sharing a similar musical viewpoint but different enough to add their own artistic spins to the whole being created.

By the end of the concert and before performing their final tune (“Thinking Red”), Halvorson thanked the audience for allowing the musicians the opportunity to play for them. The audience, in turn, gave the musicians a standing ovation. Realistically, you can’t ask for anything better.


Mary Halvorson

Sunday in Albright-Knox Art Gallery

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