For Jazz Musicians in 2021, Two Was the Magic Number

Sylvie Courvoisier and Mary Halvorson are contemporary improvisers who approach abstraction from two different angles: Courvoisier as a pianist at the bridge between free jazz and European classical music, and Halvorson as a deconstructive guitar improviser, strongly affiliated with (for lack of a better term) the Brooklyn jazz scene. Their second duo album, “Searching for the Disappeared Hour,” was a chance to mine the jazz canon for inspiration while finding ways to playfully disrupt each other’s style.

They re-listened closely to “Undercurrent,” the famed album of duets by the guitarist Jim Hall and the pianist Bill Evans, and sought to create something with a similar quality of attentive mystery. Courvoisier and Halvorson each contributed about half the compositions on “Disappeared Hour,” and each one wrote with the other player in mind. Then, once the pieces were written, the other musician went in and tinkered with them.

“I love her melodies: She has this typical Mary sound, a very unique way of writing,” Courvoisier said in an interview. “Sometimes I’d ask her, ‘Can I reharmonize that one?’ She said, ‘Sure.’” This worked in both directions. “She does the same with my songs,” Courvoisier said. “She’ll hear me and say, ‘Can I bend that note?’ I’ll say, ‘Great.’”

When improvised music comes wild and untethered, as theirs often does, some listeners lose their bearings. But when someone says they’re not sure how to engage with music like this, I suggest listening to it simply as a feeling, not as a bunch of strategies or linguistic parts. In duo scenarios, it’s especially easy to listen that way, mostly because that’s how each player is hearing the other: through feeling.


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