Anyone who has heard Mary Halvorson perform even just once has likely caught her trademark move: the sudden burst of notes quavering, akin to hitting the whammy bar but with a little more nuance. It’s a phenomenon that if described by just one word, “nosedive” would be it. It’s a term that’s been applied to her guitar playing before; heck, I’ve been guilty of using that term, too. It’s the perfect adjective to affix to that thing she does with her pedal effect. A neat trick that maybe some would call a gimmick, butI love the grenade lobbing impact it has on a song and it keeps me transfixed to her playing. Besides, isn’t finger tapping a “gimmick,” too?
The Thirteenth Assembly is one of many projects Halvorson is involved with, a quartet that counts among its member other peers of the current class of NYC progressive jazz stars: drummer Tomas Fujiwara, cornet player Taylor Ho Bynum, and violinist Jessica Pavone. Last fall, this group, calling themselves The Thirteenth Assembly, put out their second long player, Station Direct. Guess the name of the first song on this record? That’s right, “Nosedive.” Maybe it’s a pure coincidence, but doesn’t make it impossible for me not to make the association between that word and the band’s guitar player.
One thing the title does NOT mean is that this is going to be a Halvorson showcase, because The Thirteenth Assembly is a very democratic group; that’s one of the many appealing things about it. The video provided here is sans Pavone, so you don’t get to hear her serving up the opening melodic thought over Fujiwara’s stuttering beat soon joined by Bynum’s counterpoint on his cornet. Pavone soon takes over that sequence of notes so Bynum can go off squealing and murmuring in a strikingly aching way. Up to this point, Halvorson is essentially playing bass lines on her guitar, but as Bynum gets itchy, the agitation becomes contagious and Halvorson abandons the low end to peel off her familiar, warping licks. Pavone jumps into the mosh pit as well, but before the song descends into total anarchy, the drums vanish and the remaining three pivot into a brief, solemn coda.
As much as there is going on, it’s all done inside the span of four minutes.
This is third and final installment of an informal, short series focusing on Halvorson-related recent releases — Fujiwara’s The Air Is Different and Ergo’s If Not Inertia are the others — in the run up to her own highly anticipated follow up to Saturn Sings due on May 8, Bending Bridges. As in the case of the other two records, Halvorson isn’t the only thing that makes this recording stand out, and maybe not even the major reason that it does. Pavone, Bynum and Fujiwara are forces in their own right. However, if she wasn’t there, this music would be vastly different. More to the point, it wouldn’t be quite as interesting.