Combining turn-on-a dime chops and creative expression has always been the work-in-trade of the jazz musician. Those who manage to make these two poles of orphic energy seamless and serving of one another tend to reach sublime states of musical creation. This is one way to describe what we get through eight tracks of ensemble playing by this octet under the stalwart leadership of guitarist Mary Halvorson.
One could call the ensemble a small big band, i.e. a horn section (trumpet/alto sax/ tenor sax/ trombone) and a rhythm section (guitar/pedal steel guitar/bass/drums), but this is not your average octet, although the playful spirit of large ensemble composers like Ellington and Sun Ra come to mind when listening to the euphonious cavorting on some of the material as in "Spirit Splitter" (doo-wop meets the avant guard?), or the minimalist lyricism of the guitar/bass ballad "The Absolute Almost."
Halvorson is a wonder to the ear, with such a variety of inflections via her articulation, timbre and melodic, rhythmic and harmonic ideas. Halvorson as band leader does an excellent job. A leader with chops, imagination and expressive range, she manages with her cohorts to craft fascinating musical objects.
There are many moments of marvellous mayhem throughout, with contrasting moments of elegant order, as in the choir of horns in "Inky Ribbons," or the tone poem with guitar filigree of "Fog Bank." Then there are the frequent abstract modulations which remind one of an Ornette Coleman, a Paul Bley and an Anthony Braxton, to name but a few, alongside Zappa-esque shout choruses. But always textures change, and individual instruments enter and exit in a playful and proud blast of instrumental joy. Improvisation and performing from a chart can sometimes be at odds, but not if line and form, the personal-sound and the group-sound, are in sync. And they most definitely are on this set.
Recorded in late 2015 and recently made available, Away with You offers endearing tracks made up of improvisation and pre-composed material, making for a living breathing organism, which is what a band is supposed to be. What is expressed through the music is as important as the manner in which it is expressed, or, as the Irish poet W.B. Yeats had it: the dancer and the dance are one.
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