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 clichÃ©, 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.
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.