Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone, Departure of Reason

Peter Margasak

By Peter Margasak

Contributor
on 11.21.11 in Reviews

While Mary Halvorson is one of the jazz world’s most exciting and acclaimed young guitarists, Jessica Pavone has emerged as an important new composer. You might expect a collaboration between them to sound like a coffeehouse cliché, but on Departure of Reason, they routinely upend expectations — whether you expect them to be a folk group or a jazz combo. In the past, there’s been an appealingly casual vibe to their duo efforts, but on Departure of Reason they bring a greater intensity, energy and sophistication to bear on pieces that rely on more clearly defined instrumental roles. The shift is accomplished without really diminishing their nonchalant rapport; they still sound like they’re having a blast.

Routinely upending expectations

The tunes are packed with surprising twists and turns, juggling multiple stylistic references — a piece like Halvorson’s gritty and aptly-titled “Hyphen” traipses through contemporary classical music, noise, free improvisation and rock, among others — but never in any sort of discreet or dilettantish fashion. Ideas, alternately provocative and logical, are piled on top of one another, either as enchanting, unlikely hybrids or as free-flowing streams that progress naturally. Three songs feature singing, and while neither woman possesses a conventionally strong voice, they use what they have expertly. “Object of Tuesday” makes superb use of repetition and careful, shaded harmonizing, while “Saturn” sounds a bit like an indie-folk number with some medieval overtones. The music may be difficult to explain, but it’s easily one of the year’s most beguiling, infectious releases, genre be damned.