A studio encounter between pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and electric guitarist Mary Halvorson, both using sophisticated techniques giving unique voices to their playing styles, in a set of improvisations that balance playful, subtle, energetic, and emotional playing.
Halvorson, Mary / Sylvie Courvoisier
Label: Relative Pitch
Released in: USA
"A mere two months following yet another highly thought-of ensemble record, guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson has returned with some stimulating one-on-one. In this latest such instance, Crop Circles (Relative Pitch) pits her against (or rather, with) Sylvie Courvoisier.
Halvorson has always thrived in a duo setting: Jessica Pavone, Noël Akchoté, Stephan Crump to name a few; Halvorson's duets with the violinist Pavone even got her much of her initial notice some ten years ago. This time she goes toe-to-toe with a pianist who is likewise one of the most creatively distinctive women in avant-garde jazz.
The Swiss-born Courvoisier is the fairly rare highly trained musician who has been able to apply her ample skills toward developing a voice all her own. She leads or co-leads a number of mostly small ensembles that include Mark Feldman, Drew Gress, Marc Ribot, Kenny Wollesen and Ellery Eskelin. Numerous collaborations have involved John Zorn, Erik Friedlander, Herb Robertson, Enrico Rava and Evan Parker. Given hers and Halvorson's predisposition for working with any musician who shares a zeal for crafting challenging scores and carrying them out in extemporaneous performances, it was perhaps only a matter of time before the paths of these two extraordinary women would cross.
That finally happened last year with an engagement at New York's Cornelia Street Cafe, leading eight months later to a single day recording session at Courvoisier's home studio. Each brought tunes and worked them out together and by the end of the day, ten tracks were in the can.
It's a given that Crop Circles was going to be highly artful - and it is - but the affinity heard between the two is something that can't be taught. The two often navigate across a tightrope of synchronicity, such as on "La Cigale," where they erupt with clusters of notes with such density it sometimes seems that there are three or four of them playing, especially when Halvorson turns her guitar into a tornado-making machine. The unison, impossibly knotty avant-bop lines that forms the head are remindful of Lennie Tristano. The clipped notes on the brief "Water Scissors" is so synergistic and telepathic, there are practically four hands with one mind. "Eclats for Ornette" begins and ends with a precarious, harmolodic head that they somehow make it through in tight conformity. For "Downward Dog," Courvoisier splits her brain with her right hand following the serpentine path of notes with Halvorson as her left hand effortlessly offers up the complementing chords.
Other performances are much more spacious but no less full of intrigue. The spare "Aftershock" sports subtleties like pairing the bass strings of the guitar with the left side of the piano and a symmetry that's maintained through the slight mood adjustments. Halvorson is heard playing slide like no one else on "Woman In The Dunes" and later brandishes effects pedals as the two ride the song on swelling and receding tides of emotion.
With "Your Way," the two demonstrate how pretty melodies have a place in avant-garde. Although it's Halvorson's song, Courvoisier immerses herself in it and totally inhabits it. Those wanting to hear Halvorson go crazy with her signature guitar effects need to look no further than "Absent Across Skies," where she deploys them so effectively to add both jarring eccentricities and shape to Courvoisier's dark, strange chord progression.
This meeting of two of the brightest minds on the edgier side of jazz today produces music that's astonishing both in its fluency and ceaseless ingenuity. Crop Circles can be purchased directly from Relative Pitch Records here."-S. Victor Aaron, Something Else! Reviews
• Show Bio for Mary Halvorson
"One of improvised music's most in-demand guitarists, Mary Halvorson has been active in New York since 2002, following jazz studies at Wesleyan University and the New School. Critics have called her "a singular talent" (Lloyd Sachs, JazzTimes), "NYC's least-predictable improviser" (Howard Mandel, City Arts), "one of the most exciting and original guitarists in jazz-or otherwise" (Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal), and "one of today's most formidable bandleaders" (Francis Davis, Village Voice). The Philadelphia City Paper's Shaun Brady adds, "Halvorson has been steadily reshaping the sound of jazz guitar in recent years with her elastic, sometimes-fluid, sometimes-shredding, wholly unique style."
After three years of study with visionary composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton, Ms. Halvorson became an active member of several of his bands, including his trio, septet and 12+1tet. To date, she appears on six of Mr. Braxton's recordings. Ms. Halvorson has also performed alongside iconic guitarist Marc Ribot, in his bands Sun Ship and The Young Philadelphians, and with the bassist Trevor Dunn in his Trio-Convulsant. Over the past decade she has worked with such diverse bandleaders as Tim Berne, Taylor Ho Bynum, Tomas Fujiwara, Ingrid Laubrock, Myra Melford, Jason Moran, Joe Morris, Tom Rainey and Mike Reed.
As a bandleader and composer, one of Ms. Halvorson's primary outlets is her longstanding trio, featuring bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith. Since their 2008 debut album, Dragon's Head, the band has been recognized as a rising star jazz band by Downbeat Magazine for five consecutive years. Ms. Halvorson's quintet, which adds trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon to the trio, has released two critically acclaimed albums on the Firehouse 12 label: Saturn Sings and Bending Bridges. Most recently she has added two additional band members-tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trombonist Jacob Garchik-to form a septet, featured on her 2013 release Illusionary Sea. Ms. Halvorson also co-leads a longstanding chamber-jazz duo with violist Jessica Pavone, the avant-rock band People and the collective ensembles Thumbscrew and Secret Keeper."-Mary Halvorson Website (http://www.maryhalvorson.com/bio/)
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• Show Bio for Sylvie Courvoisier
"Sylvie Courvoisier is a pianist, composer and improviser. Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Courvoisier moved to New York in 1998 and has lived in Brooklyn since that time.
Courvoisier has led several groups over the years and has recorded over 25 records as a leader or co-leader for different labels, notably ECM , Tzadik and Intakt Records and 30 cds as a sideperson. She has performed and recorded with John Zorn, Mark Feldman, Yusef Lateef, Ikue Mori, Tony Oxley, Tim Berne, Joey Baron, Joëlle Léandre, Herb Robertson, Butch Morris, Evan Parker, Mark Dresser, Ellery Eskelin, Lotte Anker, Fred Frith, Michel Godard, Tomazs Stanko among others. She has been commissioned to write music for concerts, radio, dance and theater. Since 1996, she has been touring widely with her own groups and as a side person in USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe.
Currently, Courvoisier is the leader of her TRIO with Kenny Wollesen and Drew Gress. She performs regularly Solo and since 1997, in Duo with violinist Mark Feldman. She co-leads the Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman Quartet with Scott Colley and Billy Mintz. Since 2000, she has been a member of Mephista, an improvising collective trio with Ikue Mori and Susie Ibarra. She is currently playing and touring in different projects of John Zorn including Cobra and Masada Marathon. She is also playing in Erik Friedlander's Trio, Herb Robertson's Quintet and Nate Wooley's Quartet. Since 2010, she has been working as a pianist and composer for flamenco dancer Israel Galvan's project "la Curva" with more than 150 performances around the world.
Awards include Switzerland's 1996 Prix des jeunes créateurs; Zonta Club's 2000 Prix de la Création; Switzerland's 2010 Grand Prix de la Fondation Vaudoise de la Culture; 2013's NYFA (NewYork Foundation For the Art) Music/Sound Fellowship."-Sylvie Courvoisier Website (http://www.sylviecourvoisier.com/bio.htm)
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Label: Relative Pitch
Catalog ID: RPR 1045
Squidco Product Code: 23050
Recorded at Studio LULU in Brooklyn, New York,on August 21st, 2016, by Joseph Braneiforte.
Mary Halvorson-electric guitar
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1. La Cigale 5:37
2. Aftershock 5:09
3. Eclats For Ornette 3:46
4. Absent Across Skies 7:08
5. Downward Dog 4:00
6. Your Way 4:51
7. Water Scissors 1:54
8. Woman In The Dunes 6:57
9. Double Vision 4:32
10. Bitter Apple 2:23