The Importance Of Mary Halvorson’s Recordings During The Pandemic Year

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Mary Halvorson remained busy during the pandemic year, releasing a new album with her group Code Girl, as well as with the trio Thumbscrew.

(Photo: James Wang)

Since her debut on record about 15 years ago, guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson has stood out. A fierce experimentalist who’s consistently pushed the boundaries of her own sound, and that of avant-garde jazz, the Brooklyn-based Halvorson has become one of New York’s most sought-after and beloved musical voices.

This year was a significant one for Halvorson. Not only did she celebrate her 40th birthday, but she also released two fresh albums: October’s Artlessly Falling, her second Code Girl record, but first lyric and poetry-focused album; and July’s The Anthony Braxton Project with the trio Thumbscrew, a tribute to the legendary composer who inspired Halvorson to become a professional musician.

In November, DownBeat had the chance to chat with the guitarist about her weighty new releases, which nod to the her biggest influences, Trump-era politics and the lessons she’s learned during her latest turn around the sun.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

With the political landscape in mind, I wanted to start by chatting about the song, “Last-Minute Smears,” on your newest Code Girl album, Artlessly Falling. Tell me a little bit about the process of writing that song?

I wrote that song in 2018, [during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing]. I was so disgusted, but I couldn’t turn the TV off. I started writing down phrases that he said in my notebook. I just arranged his words into a poem form. Then, I thought to give the song a regretful quality that was entirely absent from his testimony. It’s a little snapshot of what was happening in the world with the #MeToo movement ramping up during the Trump Era.

It’s so weird, too, because the Supreme Court has come back into the spotlight in a really intense way between Ruth Bader Ginsburg dying and then Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment, and just [recently] Kavanaugh was back in the news amplifying Trump’s notions of election fraud. It almost gave the song, to me, a renewed sense of life.

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