“This band is all air and fire,” jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson said while warming up before her quintet’s New York debut at Barbès on a rainy Wednesday night. She was talking about her band’s Libra-heavy lineup, but the same was true of her new music.
Halvorson’s been on a run during the past year with critics calling her one of the most promising new voices to emerge in the scene. The room was packed, and I spotted fellow musicians Tim Berne, Ben Perowsky and Michaël Attias in attendance.
Halvorson’s new quintet features Trevor Dunn (bass), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto) and Ches Smith (drums). A group like this would indicate a more improvisational throw-down than what transpired. Halvorson’s new compositions were the focus here, and the group maintained a tight balance between form and improvisation. Halvorson’s distinctive sound and style were present but what differentiated this night from her from previous work was the band's attention to the blues. Irabagon (alto) launched the night’s most ferocious solo out of a Halvorson ballad, and its trajectory drawn from the Mingus playbook.
Halvorson’s in demand and her website lists her involvement in over 20 different groups. It will be interesting to see how much energy and focus she can place on this new group and music, because the band warrants more than the occasional performance or obligatory “CD release party.” Halvorson may be one of the great new instrumental voices in jazz, but the artform needs bands worthy of the same praise.
The Mary Halvorson Quintet performs at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, Conn., this Friday and will release an album in mid-2010 on the Firehouse 12 label.