AMN Reviews: Sylvie Courvoisier and Mary Halvorson – Searching for the Disappeared Hour (2021; Pyroclastic Records)

By now, we are all aware of the notion of “pandemic time” – when your normal routine has been disrupted to the point that it is difficult to remember the day of the week much less the time of the day. Two experienced New York-based composer / improvisers, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and guitarist Mary Halvorson, have attempted to capture this phenomenon in 12 duet pieces.

While both are well-known in modern creative jazz circles, their approach on Searching for the Disappeared Hour is more classically oriented, or at least better described as chamber jazz. To that point, each composition includes a series of melodic and harmonic structures that Courvoisier and Halvorson fluidly traverse. There is little repetition or traditional thematic development – they say their piece and move on. But along with and between the written aspects is plentiful room for improvisation.

At first blush, the tone is pastoral and quiet, with contrapuntal themes that are colorful, upbeat, and vary from spare to densely arranged. But upon deeper listens, the experimentalism of this duo comes to the fore. Most notably Halvorson’s use of extended techniques and note-bending on the electric dispels any notion that the album is easy listening, as does Courvoisier’s angular and percussive moments. But perhaps most remarkable is how they have captured the emotional roller coaster of the last 18 months. Even within a piece, the mood can move several times between joyous interludes and darker expressions. Happiness can turn in an instant to gloom or melancholy, and vice versa.

Consequently, Searching for the Disappeared Hour works on multiple levels. It can be listened to as a testament to the technical prowess of two musicians. But it is also a strangely moving exploration of the disorientation that we all have felt in recent months.

The album will be released on October 29 by Kris Davis’ Pyroclastic Records.