Artist: Mary Halvorson
01. Nodding Yellow
03. Flying Song
04. Haunted Head
Attempts to bring the improvisatory aspects of jazz into the Western classical music tradition (and vice-versa) can result in brilliant work such as the Stan Getz/Eddie Sauter classic Focus and Miles Davis’ iconic Sketches of Spain, or diluted auditory mush that comes oozing out of the outdoor speakers at an overpriced Sunday brunch near you. On Mary Halvorson’s Belladonna, the result is a unique album that is as exciting for its superb writing as it is for the originality of its spur-of-the-moment solos. Opening track “Nodding Yellow,” sets the scene for the whole work: the Mivos Quartet— Olivia De Prato (violin), Maya Bennardo (violin), Victor Lowrie Tafoya (viola), and Tyler J. Borden (cello)—plays a melody reminiscent of the darkly moving strains of Maurice Ravel’s only string quartet; Halvorson’s inventive guitar tone plays counterpoint to the strings that is as daring as James Blood Ulmer’s groundbreaking Harmolodic Guitar with Strings.
Ballad “Moonburn” sets Halvorson’s bracing guitar against a romantic figure that is slowly being explored and opened up to offset the quartet’s beauty.. “Flying Song” is reminiscent of Jim Hall’s improvisatory work with Gunther Schuller. The album’s longest work, “Haunted Head,” starts with a Halvorson melody layered with a high eerie figure from the Mivos Quartet that gives way to an evocative cello phrase. The interplay is so fluid that it is hard to tell when composition starts and improvisation ends.