Illegal Crowns: Unclosing

Guitarist Mary Halvorson joins with horn, piano and drums to lay richly dissonant themes and solos over reflective and propulsive backgrounds


Mary Halvorson, Tomas Fujiwara and Taylor Ho Bynum previously collaborated on Fujiwara’s extraordinary triple double album March On (self released, 2019). Halvorson and Fujiwara are also members of Thumbscrew, a trio completed by the addition of Michael Formanek. Both Fujiwara and Formanek are also members of Halvorson’s highly praised assemblage Code Girl.

Halvorson, Fujiwara and Ho Bynum joined Paris-based pianist Benoît Delbecq to form the collective Illegal Crowns, releasing their eponymously titled debut album on the RogueArt label in 2016 followed by The No-Nosed Puppet (RogueArt, 2019). Delbecq has previously played with a host of leading jazzers including Evan Parker, Fred Hersch, Mark Turner and Gerald Cleaver.

Halvorson is unquestionably one of the most intriguing musicians around with an approach unlike any other guitarist. Her idiosyncratic deployment of a delay modeller combined with an expression pedal evinces a totally unique sound. In 2017, 2018 and 2019 Halvorson won Best Guitar in Downbeat‘s International Critics Poll and in 2019 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (aka the “Genius Grant”) for music. In 2016 a New York Times feature on Halvorson described her as …”the most critically acclaimed jazz guitarist to emerge in [in the last 12 years]”.

The angular, dissonant counterpoint of the opening track, initially propelled by a pulsating rhythm, is conveyed by piano, guitar and cornet playing the main tune in unison and then breaking out in forays of extemporisation with the three instruments vying for attention, all underpinned by Fujiwara’s understated but omnipresent drums. Halvorson’s strident Osmosis Crown comes replete with a deceptively simple yet dramatic sounding ascending/descending repeated hook. Halvorson’s distortion-imbued solo here is astounding.

Despite being what could lazily be pigeonholed as “avant-garde”, this entire album is populated by meticulously constructed compositions incorporating ensemble passages, harmonic contrapuntal incursions and frequent delicate melodies. Halvorson, Fujiwara and Delbecq here contribute three pieces each and despite the unconventional instrumentation, the whole recording works remarkably well, often instilling both a meditative feel and a mesmeric atmosphere.

Crooked Frame; Unclosing; Triple Fever; Fading Wave; Osmosis Crown; Freud And Jung Go Cycling; G. Ocean; Les Mots Et Les Choses; Soul Of The Grey (54.20)
Mary Halvorson (elg); Taylor Ho Bynum (c, flh); Benoît Delbecq (p); Tomas Fujiwara (d). New Haven, 20 June 2022.
Out Of Your Head Records OOYH 020