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Mary Halvorson's latest epic is so fresh and inventive


Mary Halvorson, Code Girl
  • Mary Halvorson, Code Girl
The Brooklyn-based experimental guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson has emulated Anthony Braxton in wildly varying ensemble sizes to keep listeners guessing. Yet her double-CD, the 87-minute Code Girl is so ambitious, one jazz blogger suggests that a new form of “avant-jazz indie rock” is being invented. This level of creativity recalls Carla Bley’s 1973 epic Escalator Over the Hill, where the big-band composer added rock vocalists like Jack Bruce. But where Bley could be pompous at times, Halvorson’s work is always light, sharp and endlessly surprising.

A good deal of the stylization credit must go to the remarkable South Indian vocalist Amirtha Kidambi, who has been gaining notice for her stunning jazz ensemble Elder Ones. Halvorson sets Kidambi to work on 14 original compositions melding wildly improvisational instrumental runs and vocal wordplay, from the opening “My Mind I Find in Time,” to the closer “Drop the Needle.” Kidambi’s interpretations of Halvorson’s abstract poetry can recall anyone from Fontella Bass to Nina Simone. But the real genius of her latest epic is that it always sounds so fresh and inventive. It’s enough to make you wonder why all musicians can’t rise to these exacting standards.
File next to: Carla Bley, Laurie Anderson

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