field report no.103016

LOCATION: Shapeshifter Lab BK.NY
SUBJECT: Mary Halvorson Octet

OBSERVATIONS:
In the run of shows I saw my last month in the city, none was as poignant, for me, as seeing Mary Halvorson again. Much to my surprise, when I first came to NYC over ten years ago, I actively struggled to find my niche. It was through following Halvorson (and the various artists in her orbit) that I found a scene in the city that felt vital and my own.

Now it seems generally accepted that Mary Halvorson is one of the jazz musicians we will be listening to for decades from now. She has graduated from up-and-comer to next wave. When many of the people who have dominated the downtown jazz scene for decades are now over 60 (and we've lost a few already) it's notable that you can't seem to find a week where Mary isn't gigging one of her dozen-or-so projects around town.

This particular night was the record-release of her new Octet record—a group which has grown organically from her original trio, through quintet and septet formations. The larger the group gets, the more Mary Halvorson (the composer) steps out. I've not heard many composers write such intricate-yet-still-fluid charts the way she does while still maintaining room for improvisation. Not only does she provide for improvisation in novel ways, she has a deep appreciation for an ear-wormy melody.

I took a moment to thank Halvorson (awkwardly) after the show. I tried to explain that she'd been a faithful lodestone in my own musical journey, but I've never been good at talking to my idols.

NOTES: Mary Halvorson, Jon Irabagon, Ingrid Laubrock, Jonathan Finlayson, Jacob Garchick, Susan Alcorn, Chris Lightcap, Tomas Fujiwara; Brandon Seabrook
PRESENT: AMS

Field Report no.080316 A/B

LOCATION: The Stone NY.NY / Baby's All Right BK.NY
SUBJECT: Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook / Shopping

OBSERVATIONS:
I had a ticket to see Shopping at Baby's All Right. I recently discovered that a small clutch of new bands I was into (Shopping, Sacred Paws, Trash Kit, Golden Grrrls) were all led by the same woman: Rachel Aggs. That discovery made me all the more keen to catch this show, but it wasn't until rock time (doors at 9pm). I could cool my jets at work and keep punching the clock (for free), or bike all the way home to almost immediately head back out… Or, come to find out, one of my favorite guitarists was doing a weeklong residency at The Stone (in the Lower East side), with a tempting duo set at 8pm this very night. Essentially, I could get off work, grab a beer, catch some jazz, bike over the Williamsburg bridge, and see some rock-n-roll. God bless NYC.

Mary Halvroson and Brandon Seabrook are two of the most buzzed about young jazz guitarists in the country and they couldn't be more different. Halvorson is all business, her playing as dizzying as it can be, always feels considered and confident. There is no other way that line would go, while it will never be the same again. Seabrook's far more flamboyant while he chops at his strings with spastic fury, reminding me most of Cecil Taylor's style. Surely, somewhere in that flurry of notes is the one you're looking for.

There was a particularly striking moment where Halvoroson had built a loop on a delay pedal of random moments punched in and out while she was soloing—so it was a hodge-podge of half notes cut and pasted together—and in seconds Seabrook had mentally processed this collage and begun doubling it on his guitar, manually. 

After a quick pedal over the bridge, I was deep in the crowd to catch the last opener before Shopping: what proved to be a very worthy band called Gauche. They reminded me most of Lora Logic's solo records (and that's a high complement). Shopping is a music of muscular economy. They exist somewhere on a spectrum between ESG and Young Marble Giants. They work every note for all it's worth and sweat it out on the stage. I don't think I could have asked for much more of a random Wednesday night on the town. 

NOTES: Mary Halvorson, Brandon Seabrook; Shopping, Gauche
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.010616

POSITION: Roulette BK.NY
SUBJECT: Tomeka Reid Quartet

OBSERVATIONS:
These are all advanced, modern jazz players (no retro-fetishists)—but given that, they still roll with a heavy sense of classical swing. They evoke a feeling of chamber jazz as well, arranging the group as a string trio bolstered by percussion (with guitar replacing the violin).

Mary Halvorson held the floor (and attention) the most. She has an uncanny ability to shift between stylistic references and dynamics within a single line—finishing a run of delicate, rapid chiming notes of complicated fingering with a bluesy hammering on a single open string. Fujiwara grounded the classical feel with a steady backbeat and a sepia-toned palette, heavy on splashy cymbals and rimshots. As the leader (and writer of many of the numbers), Tomeka Reid served the songs over showboating, often bowing her cello, drawing the melodic core out of the songs. Her solos, though not fierce, were often abstract and striking.

The song, Wabash Ave—not featured on their first, self-titled LP—was a raucous closer, filled with slippery tempos. The last solo was given over to Fujiwara who ran for all he was worth, showing an impressive dexterity and melodicism on his kit.

NOTES: Tomeka Reid, cello; Mary Halvorson, guitar; Jason Roebke, bass; Tomas Fujiwara, drums.
PRESENT: AMS, Jared E.