Tiny Desk

Mary Halvorson Quintet

Download Audio

20 min 24 sec

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)

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

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Youth Lagoon Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Youth Lagoon

Trevor Powers' new songs are expansive and self-assured, a transition reflected in this performance.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Wild Reeds Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Wild Reeds

Great singers aren't easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special.

Tiny Desk Concert with Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

At the Tiny Desk, Rateliff's body-shaking Southern-style soul takes on a more laid-back sound.

Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Rahim AlHaj

The oud player's wordless music tells powerful stories about life's blessedness and fragility.

Tiny Desk Concert with Aurora Hadas /NPR hide caption

toggle caption Hadas /NPR

Tiny Desk


At 19 and on the cusp of her first album, the Norwegian singer performs with a sense of discovery.

Tiny Desk Concert with My Bubba Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

My Bubba

My Bubba is a duo of women whose quirky, delicate, sweetly sung folk songs are a delight.

Tiny Desk Concert with Chris and Morgane Stapleton Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Chris Stapleton

With his wife Morgane, the country singer-songwriter sings patient, detailed songs of devotion.

Tiny Desk Concert with Diane Coffee. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Diane Coffee

Conjuring David Bowie, Diane Coffee's Shaun Fleming swaggered and shimmied behind the Tiny Desk.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Suffers NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Suffers

The 10-piece band can barely fit all its horns, guitars, percussion and energy behind one desk.

Tiny Desk Concert with Beauty Pill Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

Beauty Pill

In Beauty Pill, life whirs with plunderphonic glee and riffs are funky from the inside out.

Back To Top

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor