The Thirteenth Assembly Station Direct

[Important; 2011]

Styles: modern jazz, chamber improvisation
Others: Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet, Mary Halvorson-Jessica Pavone Duo, Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up, Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon

A true mentor should encourage one to not only do more to maximize one’s capabilities, but to be more of oneself in the process. I overheard composer-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton telling guitarist-composer Mary Halvorson that one day she “should be writing an opera,” and why not? Even if it does not result in an actual opera, the idea of unlimited potential is endemic to Braxton’s (and any great mentor’s) effect on other musicians and artists. Comprised of four young musicians who are all regular associates of Braxton’s ensembles, The Thirteenth Assembly works a vast landscape of possibility into a small-scale unit.

Consisting of brass multi-instrumentalist Taylor Ho Bynum, guitarist Mary Halvorson, violist Jessica Pavone, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, the group has been active since 2007, and Station Direct is their second proper full-length (after 2008’s (un)Sentimental), though they have worked in various formations throughout the past half-decade or more. The fact that these four musicians are active in one another’s ensembles (and working consistently with Braxton) speaks to how unified The Thirteenth Assembly sounds — a band in both the rock and jazz sense, touring and developing a tight and copacetic sound that’s more than the sum of its parts.

Consisting of seven pieces — two by each member of the quartet, except for Bynum, who contributes one lengthy composition — Station Direct draws together a number of different strains that appear not only in modern creative music in general, but across each member’s discography. Classicized counterpoint, atonal and non-linear improvisation, art rock and good old-fashioned jazz interplay are all part of The Thirteenth Assembly’s equations. The opening “Nose Dive” by Halvorson pits low, almost tenor-guitar-like pluck against lilting viola scrabble and tumbling brass-and-drum cells. Skittering, top-heavy percussion supports a glitchy, smeared plenum that spreads out into taffy-like tones, closing with Bynum in an unaccompanied poem of dotted breath control.

Fujiwara is an excellent drummer, and the workout he gets near the beginning of Pavone’s “Coming Up” is a fine example; his Alan Dawson-schooled orchestral exploration of rhythm, tone, mass, and velocity is tremendous and evolves into an elegantly detailed beat, well-matched to front line poise. Bynum can be a player whose fluffs, spittle, and noise can seem to get the best of logical phraseology, but his solo here is beautifully organized from scrawl into measured nuance. Following the composer’s electronically redoubled statements, Halvorson and Fujiwara build back into song from waves of athleticism.

The drummer’s “Prosthetic Chorizo” is a particulate dance over a funky, flitting pulse that soon finds the quartet in a spontaneous conversation, unifying and separating in creeping pecks. Bynum cuts a Dixonian swath before the final section’s knotty, rockish drive brings the tune home. “Long Road” hinges on a few sparsely-placed structural conceits, allowing players to proceed uninterrupted through a range of moods and encourage the ensemble to grow from these individual grains. Pavone starts off with false-fingered scrapes and moves into delicate near-lament. Halvorson comes in with a twangy melody that references both “I’m an Old Cowhand” and Polvo’s “Light of the Moon,” and she and Fujiwara amplify and alter time around the ensemble.

Bent, glassy tones and hollow-body emphasis characterize her solo, drawn upon by muted trumpet and pizzicato viola. Through Bynum’s modulated brass wows, circular breathing, and bunched subtones, a soft, bright and quavering recollection of kwela and martial music comes to the foreground in a rousing reverie to finish on an updraft. The closing “Direct” is a gorgeous pop song rendered with a dry strum and bare, wistful lines that retain wily intellect. When Anthony Braxton speaks of “restructural masters” — those who combine knowledge of history and fervent individuality to generate a cross-stylistic musical future — he is surely referring to musicians like these and well-defined groups such as The Thirteenth Assembly.

Links: The Thirteenth Assembly - Important

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