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"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

JAZZ TODAY: Two Key Stories from 2010 — Mary Halvorson and Clean Feed Records

There are at least two important jazz developments from last year that I haven't written about yet.  One is the emergence—with great volume and creativity—of the Lisbon-based Clean Feed Records.  The other is the ubiquity and quality and fresh inventiveness of guitarist Mary Halvorson.

Read the full JAZZ TODAY column right here.

Clean Feed released almost 50 (!) disc last year, recordings that featured both very well-known jazz players and obscure artists on the rise.  Nearly every one is worth a deep, long listen.  This is thrilling, adventurous work where musicians are given the chance to stretch out, explore, be contemplative, recombine is interesting groupings.  In my column, I detail what I love about Clean Feed by reviewing music by James Carney/Stephan Crump, Rudresh Mahanthappa/Steve Lehman, Anthony Davis/James Robinson, Tony Malaby/Wadada Leo Smith/William Parker/Nasheet Waits, and the Tom Rainey Trio (featuring guitarist Mary Halvorson).  If your taste in jazz tends toward to fresh and new, then Clean Feed is something you should be eating for lunch.

Mary Halvorson played with a dozen interesting bands in 2010, but what brings her to mind is her triumphant recording Saturn Sings from last year.  It scooted past my "best of 2010" lists because my own ears took a while to catch up to it.  I heard Halvorson live during the 2009 Vancouver Jazz Festival, where she was playing with Taylor Ho Bynum's group, and at that time I found her fascinating but sour.  Her playing is a far cry from conventional jazz guitar, consistently largely of jagged melodic forms and scratched out textures.  While she can play beautifully, its the gorgeousness of the sour or unexpected—not a huge surprise when you consider that her training comes from the bands of Anthony Braxton, in part.

Saturn Sings pairs her trio (with John Hebert on bass and drummer Ches Smith) with two horns (Jonathan Finlayson's trumpet and John Irabagon from Mostly Other People Do The Killing on alto sax), and it contains crisp, wonderful writing.  While the horns on not on every track, they help to polish up Halvorson's musical instincts and to set off the off-kilter sound of her guitar trio with some of the polish and structure of an old Blue Note date.  Listening to Saturn Sings is just a wee bit like hearing an old Andrew Hill record if he had been a guitarist rather than a pianist—it lurches and surprises and thrills.  It takes you by surprise.

Clean Feed has already produced some great work in 2011, to be reviewed here soon.  I'm sure Mary Halvorson is cooking up delights as well.  The state of the music in 2011: just fine.

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