Mary Halvorson: Cloudward

The pitch-shifting US guitarist offers structured but harmonically freewheeling compositions over rubato, rock and loosely Latin beats


The eight new compositions on Cloudward were written in 2022 when, as Mary Halvorson says, “things started moving forwards. Air travel had resumed, and we were once again cloudward … The main thing I felt while writing the music was optimism.”

The same improvisatory Amaryllis septet performs on this set as on Halvorson’s two acclaimed 2022 albums, Amaryllis and Belladonna, but that self-proclaimed optimism marks it out from its predecessors. Oddly, some of that good feeling comes from Halvorson’s liberal but not literal use of the Tarot pack, musing about the intention behind the images without necessarily looking for divination or direction.

The Gate kicks off proceedings in strong style, its layered mix of composition and improvisation intriguing and circular in delivery, building up gradually to a strong climax. In contrast, The Tower is initially led by Halvorson’s guitar on a long and varying delay before the rest of the band join in to centre the piece. Meanwhile, Collapsing Mouth starts with a composed duo section for vibes and trumpet before the two musicians begin to break free and interpret the music at will.

And so each track unrolls, each one well-crafted and constructed, each one surprising in its varying elements but logical in its delivery. Throughout, the band is consistently adept at tackling what is thrown at it while never losing sight of the bigger, cooperative picture. Obviously, the leader stands out for her off-centre, off-kilter guitar lines, notably in her distorted solo on Desiderata, but Adam O’Farrill’s trumpet is often the main voice, Patricia Brennan supplying a consistently warm melodic line underneath. Laurie Anderson’s guest intervention with treated violin on Incarnadine adds much to the sensitive looseness of the track as a whole.

Halvorson continues to delight and impress in her music, her energising voice unmistakable in every note. This confident and mature set adds much to her growing reputation, and will delight all who listen to it.

(1) The Gate; The Tower; Collapsing Mouth; Unscrolling; Desiderata; (2) Incarnadine; (1) Tailhead; Ultramarine (47.32)
(1) Halvorson (g); Adam O’Farrill (t); Jacob Garchik (tb); Patricia Brennan (vib); Nick Dunston (b); Tomas Fujiwara (d). NYC, April 2023?
(2) as (1) plus Laurie Anderson (vn).
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