♫♪  Mary Halvorson - “Sadness”

No matter under what guise it exists, creative music is about one primary thing: room. Composed in the moment or given an external framework, having room to express oneself — to play — is of vital importance in this music. Guitarist-composer Mary Halvorson has spent much of the last few years focusing her work and expanding her palette by broadening groups from trio and quintet to septet and octet. Orchestration in these settings allows for granular interplay and nested solo performances — invariably, musicians will draw themselves down, spontaneously or as a direct result of Halvorson’s writing, and an unaccompanied stretch will emerge. Yet as much as her guitar has found space within groups, she hasn’t recorded a solo guitar album. That has changed with Meltframe, her first solo disc on longtime label Firehouse12, which presents ten guitar solos. Importantly, they’re all covers — partly because Halvorson wasn’t looking to compose a book for solo guitar, but it also gave her an opportunity to work formally with a variety of tunes. Her initial idea was to perform well-known standards (Ellington’s “Solitude” is here) but that shifted to include works by less-obvious composers like Annette Peacock and Carla Bley and peers like drummer Tomas Fujiwara and bassist Chris Lightcap.

One of the most intense renditions here is of Ornette Coleman’s “Sadness,” a meditation for alto saxophone, bass and percussion first recorded in 1962 at New York’s Town Hall and issued on an ESP-Disk’ LP. It’s been a favorite of the guitarist’s since she was in high school and given extra poignancy by the fact of Coleman’s recent earthly departure at eighty-five. Halvorson’s use of slide and craggy intervals closely matches the keening cry of the composer’s alto and the dripping arco glissandi of bassist David Izenzon — she is essentially playing both roles at once. One might ask what a young guitarist from the Northeast has in common with a saxophonist born and raised in segregated Fort Worth, but Coleman knew that almost everyone has the blues, or at least some way to express a similar feeling even if the root experiences are different. As the tune unfurls, it becomes a loping slice of folk-blues with a dissonant, particulate twang reminiscent of late ‘60s John Fahey, espousing both floral grace and a muted, metallic gnaw. Like the original performance, Halvorson keeps “Sadness” brief at three minutes and change, but that’s more than enough time to expound on the process of loss.

• Mary Halvorson: http://maryhalvorson.com
• Firehouse12: http://firehouse12records.com

Chocolate Grinder

CHOCOLATE GRINDER is our audio/visual section, with an emphasis on the lesser heard and lesser known. We aim to dig deep, but we’ll post any song or video we find interesting, big or small.

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