Halvorson's hallmarks include a taste for poignant melodies voiced in close harmony for trumpet and alto, tricky, discontinuous rhythms, passages of collective improv, and unusual ensemble balances — foreground and background often meet on the same plane. So your ear might be equally drawn to one of her stately unison trumpet/alto lines and her own guitar, which instead of comping chords is fluttering through some fiendishly tricky single-note lines.
Halvroson's overall taste in guitar sound (played on a big, hollow-bodied Guild) is hard and dry: no reverb, a sharp attack. Which isn't to say she won't burst into dirty grunge chords or warp her sound with odd tremelos and effects. With its beguiling melodies and odd narrative discontinuities, a Halvorson piece can be like a slow walk in a moonlit enchanted forest filled with strange and beautiful creatures. On the new album, the angular three-way theme of the trio piece "The Periphery of Scandal" gives way to chimes and bends, expands, contracts, and ends in a burst or stardust harmonics. It's equal parts whimsy and wit, mystery and melancholy.
"The idea could be a guitar line, it could be a bass line, it could be a trumpet part, and then I'll sort of flesh it out from there and I'll just go with that train of thought," Halvorson says. "I like to leave room for things to happen. If Jonathan was playing a solo and all of a sudden Jon Irabagon decided to join him, I would hope that he would, because I like having things happen that are also outside the form. I like to think that it would be different every time, and I love when stuff like that happens."
Of her overall experience with Braxton, she says that what impressed her most was that "he created his own musical universe. Just learning his musical system and seeing that this was something he really created himself, I thought was really amazing, and I still do." Ultimately, that could be what amazes about Mary Halvorson as well.
MARY HALVORSON QUINTET + JOE MORRIS TRIO | Lily Pad, 1353 Cambridge St, Cambridge | June 8 @ 7:30 pm [Morris] + 8:30 pm [Halvorson] | $10 | lily-pad.net