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Mary Halvorson Quintet: Tiny Desk Concert

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20 min 24 sec

February 25, 2013 A guitarist with a decidedly non-standard approach to jazz's standard practices, Halvorson balances golden-era hard-bop order and free improvising entropy. At the NPR Music offices, her band strikes comforting tones, but also morphs, rephrases and implodes those ideas.

Today, when you see a saxophonist and a trumpeter in front of a jazz group, it's par for the course. It's a particular combination that's defined many landmark recordings: Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Done right, it's a classic meat-and-potatoes sound: open to reinvention, comfortable with tradition.

Guitarist Mary Halvorson didn't come to this standard practice just by playing standards. As a sidewoman, she's often tapped to play in open improvising situations; her mentors include the unclassifiable composer Anthony Braxton and the free-jazz guitarist/bassist Joe Morris. Among her sonic signatures are craggy distortions, bent strings and delay-pedaled blurts through a hollow-body guitar.

Yet Halvorson has now recorded two albums with her quintet, one with alto saxophone (Jon Irabagon) and trumpet (Jonathan Finlayson) up top. (The rhythm section is also among New York's finest, with John Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drums.) From the way her songs balance order and entropy, you can hear that she's studied how golden-era hard bop blended those voices, and how later generations morphed, rephrased and imploded those ideas.

We thought we'd spring this particular sound of surprise on the Tiny Desk. So when they showed up in town to perform, we invited Mary Halvorson and her quintet to NPR Music's headquarters, where they got comfortable enough to get rad.

Set List

All compositions by Mary Halvorson.

  • "Love In Eight Colors" (No. 21)
  • "Hemorrhaging Smiles" (No. 25)
Credits

Producer: Patrick Jarenwattananon; Editors: Denise DeBelius, Gabriella Garcia-Pardo; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Christopher Parks, Lauren Rock; photo by Ryan Smith/NPR

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