This is tense, spooky music with a delightfully playful side. In “Saturn Sings,” her second album on the Firehouse 12 label, Mary Halvorson adds alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson to her already formidable trio with drummer Ches Smith and bassist John Hébert.
Wthout Halvorson, that combination might recall the special musical partnership of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry (no, not the hockey commentator). And with her, it still does, as in the unsettlingly beautiful ballad “Crack in Sky (No.11).”
If you can pull that off, it means a lot. But it’s not only a matter of instruments—it’s an aesthetic. In this group, Halvorson comfortably imbues her playing, composing and arranging with styles and methods in and out of jazz to create her own sturdy framework.
It’s the sound of Monk’s humor, noise-rock, expressionism, hard bop, Ornette Coleman’s insouciance. It might be a disservice to Halvorson, reducing her music to components. But the point is that those components have coalesced.
In Halvorson’s playing, you get whiffs of referential sounds. But they’re just passing, ephemeral. When you think you’ve identified them, you’re left, refreshingly, with her sound and her sound alone.
Near the end of Jon Irabagon’s solo in “Leak Over Six Five (No. 14),” you hear some warped, spacey noodling, like a radio broadcast played backward at high-speed. Is it Saturn singing? No, it’s Mary Halvorson’s guitar.