New Music: Reviews of this week’s CD releases

Sylvie Courvoisier/Mary Halvorson:Searching for the Disappeared Hour

(Pyroclastic Records)

One result of the pandemic has been a large number of solo and duet jazz albums — one of the few ways to record under strict protocols. Many of these have been wonderful, and this album is an example. Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and guitarist Mary Halvorson are solidly entrenched in the New York avant-garde scene. Together they are a formidable pair.

The album explores, in often tangential directions, the concept of time, specifically the hour of music written and performed inside the warped reality of the pandemic. The “disappeared hour” is one everyone has experienced in the last 18 months.

There are both fully improvised and written tracks here, with some constantly surprising tunes that move through kaleidoscopic moments. The opening track, Golden Proportion, is a pastiche of brief riffs that dance around the theme and even slip in a few notes from the Moonlight Sonata. That sense of fun shows up throughout the album, notwithstanding several tracks Halvorson wrote during the debate regarding Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh that would never be considered funny. Lulu’s Second Theorem, on the other hand, takes the listener down a philosophical path (although Lulu is in fact Courvoisier’s cat).

As they deliver anything but straight-ahead music, the synchronicity between these two move what is unapologetic experimental music into the realm of sheer musical beauty. They take turns heading to the musical edge, while the other holds the foundation. The result is always thoughtful, surprisingly accessible and perhaps unexpectedly melodic. The closest thing to a title track, Courvoisier’s The Disappearing Hour, outlines the often-confused reality we have all faced for the last 18 months. Gates & Passes is a quiet and gentle ballad that follows a graceful movement to a peaceful conclusion.

This is music to attract many who are not overly familiar with modern avant-garde jazz. They will not be disappointed. ★★★★1/2

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