Mary Halvorson Re-Engineered Jazz Guitar. Now, She's Hacking Her Own Code : The Record Both as a player and composer, Halvorson has a decade-strong reputation as one of her field's least predictable. Her latest release, Code Girl, might be her most startling move yet.
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Mary Halvorson Re-Engineered Jazz Guitar. Now, She's Hacking Her Own Code

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Mary Halvorson Re-Engineered Jazz Guitar. Now, She's Hacking Her Own Code

Mary Halvorson Re-Engineered Jazz Guitar. Now, She's Hacking Her Own Code

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Over the last decade, guitarist Mary Halvorson has become one of the most acclaimed new jazz artists. Her musical style poses questions rather than dictating answers. From Jazz Night In America, Nate Chinen has this review of her latest release.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEAST")

AMIRTHA KIDAMBI: (Singing) Focus on the other.

NATE CHINEN, BYLINE: Mary Halvorson knows a thing or two about cryptic intentions. But on "Code Girl," Halvorson's flair for intrigue kicks into higher gear. It's the Brooklyn-based guitarist's first big push into songwriting featuring original lyrics full of descriptive detail but cagey in most other respects. Amirtha Kidambi is the singer, and she does an excellent job with a difficult task.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEAST")

KIDAMBI: (Singing) It must be the stars.

CHINEN: Halvorson is an explorer by training and by temperament. Like her mentor, the avant-garde composer Anthony Braxton, she has honed a language all her own. But she says creating in this mode was something new.

MARY HALVORSON: Because I wrote the lyrics first and then thought, OK, I'm going to try to turn these into songs. It was kind of a big question mark.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY MIND I FIND IN TIME")

KIDAMBI: (Singing) I have here in my rotation. It is not predictable - my mind.

CHINEN: The band on "Code Girl" features seasoned improvisers with no hangups about genre, which is crucial because the music on the album is as tricky to pin down as the lyrics. It's all part of a mysterious creative process that Halvorson unlocked while making these songs. Even the title of the album, a phrase she got from Braxton, suggests a kind of puzzle, which is only appropriate.

HALVORSON: I wasn't thinking, oh, I'm the code girl (laughter). I like that it's sort of strange. It could have multiple meanings. Like, a code could be anything. It could be, like, coding a computer or breaking a code. As I sat with it more, it just seemed to make more sense, although not necessarily in a logical way.

CHINEN: But there is logic of a slippery sort in this music. It has the unmistakable slant of Halvorson's style, pushing against boundary and category while remaining true to form.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARY HALVORSON'S "MY MIND I FIND IN TIME")

INSKEEP: Well, the album is "Code Girl" by Mary Halvorson. And our reviewer is Nate Chinen of Jazz Night In America, which is heard on public radio.

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