Over the course of the last decade, few left-of-center guitarists have received the high acclaim that Mary Halvorson has garnered. From her work with Anthony Braxton’s ensembles to her contributions to a plethora of groups in the Brooklyn creative music scene, to her efforts of a leader, Halvorson has emerged as a singular voice. This, the first recording of her septet, raises the already high bar of what we’ve come to expect from her.
Accompanied by established co-conspirators John Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drums, Illusionary Sea also includes the four-horn attack of Jonathan Finlayson, Jon Irabagon, Ingrid Laubrock, and Jacob Garchik. With this larger outfit, the album focuses on Halvorson’s compositional, as well as improvisational, skills.
For instance, the title track opens with the horn section weaving an angular melody, with Halvorson initially taking a background role. Throughout the album, she is comfortable with performing rhythmic duties, though busy ones, backing up the horn section. Nonetheless, she does let fly from time to time with her signature spiky, clean-toned style.
Each track provides unique insight into Halvorson and her group. On Smiles of Great Men, she provides powerful strumming reminiscent of a more pristine version of late 90’s Nels Cline. Butterfly Orbit, the second to last track, takes a more assertive approach, as if it were written for an avant-rock band.
Illusionary Sea is a high-water mark in a rapidly growing oeuvre, possibly Halvorson’s best release yet as a leader. And that’s saying a lot.