She began with a genuinely individual sound and launched a trio that appreciated her venturesome nature. She added horns and boosted the interplay options. She worked in a series of duos, one which embraced whimsy, one which reveled in tumult, and one which found beauty in fragments. Mary Halvorson has been turning heads for several years now, and with each new context, the logic and lyricism behind her experiments becomes more evident. A Robert Wyatt fan who was mentored by Anthony Braxton and Joe Morris, the acclaimed guitarist earns herself a larger profile with each passing year. Her latest disc finds her scrutinizing the jazz canon and essaying deep-cut nuggets by Oliver Nelson, Carla Bley, and McCoy Tyner among others. Meltframe (Firehouse 12) is also her most candid album, a chance to hear her embracing some highly regarded melodies while deconstructing them to fit her pitch-shifting elaborations. Halvorson has architectural skills, and she’s courageous when it comes to tone and texture. Her spin through McCoy Tyner’s “Aisha” (from John Coltrane’s Olé album) moves from Jim Hall delicacy to Blue Cheer fuzz in the tap of her foot. Perhaps the biggest reveal is Ellington’s “Solitude,” the defacto thesis of this solo date. Like her pal Marc Ribot does on his essential Don’t Blame Me album, she cuts to the song’s essence while injecting it with plenty of perspective. It virtually shimmers and you’ll feel the intimacy when Halvorson hits. (New Yorkers: her residency at The Stone starts on Aug 2).
Speaking of Ribot, his Young Philadelphians outfit is playing the Fest on Saturday aft, and Halvorson is part of the squad. Their new Live in Toyko (Enja) throws the funk around like the sticky disco homage it is, with Jamaladeen Tacuma and Calvin Weston joining the guitarists for a romp through Philly soul. From “Love Rollercoaster” to that Van McCoy smash, it’s all about groove – even the boo-hoo intro to “TSOP” has a pulse.