Guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson makes her Nonesuch debut with two albums, Amaryllis and Belladonna, out now. The two suites come in a two-LP vinyl set or as two separate CDs and digital albums, produced and mixed by John Dieterich. "These are new landmarks in Halvorson’s already inimitable discography," exclaims the Guardian in a five-star, Jazz Album of the Month review. Amaryllis is a six-song suite performed by a newly formed sextet of master improvisers; the Mivos string quartet joins for three of the songs, making this the largest ensemble for which Halvorson has written to date; you can watch a new video for the title track here. Belladonna is a set of five compositions written for Halvorson on guitar plus the Mivos Quartet, whose parts are through-composed and augmented by Halvorson’s guitar improvisations. They celebrate the albums’ release with performances of the two suites in Brooklyn, New Hampshire, and Quebec next week.
Nonesuch Records releases twin label debut albums, Amaryllis and Belladonna, from Brooklyn-based guitarist, composer, and MacArthur fellow Mary Halvorson, out now. Halvorson describes these two suites as “modular and interlocking." The records, produced and mixed by John Dieterich (Deerhoof), are available as a two-LP vinyl set and as two separate CDs, and are also available digitally. Jazziz calls it "some of the most accomplished writing of Halvorson’s meteoric career."
"Halvorson’s current double release, Amaryllis and Belladonna, shows how far this singleminded original has come, and affords a glimpse of how far she may go," says the Guardian, in its five-star Jazz Album of the Month review. "Both sessions confirm how years of jaggedly lyrical solo and ensemble improvising and a quirkily subversive affection for mainstream music have now nurtured a composer of unpredictable but warmly expressive character … These are new landmarks in Halvorson’s already inimitable discography."
Amaryllis is a six-song suite performed by a newly formed sextet of master improvisers, including Halvorson, Patricia Brennan (vibraphone), Nick Dunston (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Jacob Garchik (trombone), and Adam O’Farrill (trumpet). The Mivos string quartet joins for three of the songs, making this the largest ensemble for which Halvorson has written to date. The suite showcases Halvorson’s many musical influences from jazz, experimental, new music, and beyond. You can watch a new video for the title track, featuring painting by DM Stith, here:
Belladonna is a set of five compositions written for Halvorson on guitar plus the Mivos Quartet: Olivia De Prato (violin), Maya Bennardo (violin), Victor Lowrie Tafoya (viola), and Tyler J. Borden (cello). It is Halvorson’s first time writing for a string quartet. Mivos’ parts are through-composed and augmented by Halvorson’s guitar improvisations.
Halvorson and the ensembles celebrate the albums’ release with a special performance of the two suites at National Sawdust in Brooklyn on May 18, Jimmy's Jazz and Blues Club in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, May 20, and Festival International Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville, Quebec, May 21.
Halvorson says, “Amaryllis features some of my favorite musicians on the planet. I started writing the music in 2020, when the world slowed and most activities came to a halt, and all I had was my guitar, a pencil, some staff paper, and a computer. The pleasure of imagining what the music might sound like kept me sane during that time and gave me reason to push forward.
“Around the same time, I was listening to a lot of string quartet music. I had a few orchestration books lying around my apartment, and ample time to take composition lessons. Writing for string quartet has always been a dream of mine, but something that seemed intimidating and somehow out of reach. But with a clear schedule and endless days stretching out in front of me, it felt like the right time to finally go for it,” she continues.
“Working with the Mivos Quartet was a dream. After I composed the Belladonna record, for string quartet and guitar, I wanted to keep going, so I started adding string quartet parts to the Amaryllis sextet music, too. Hence the project ultimately circled back around to contain both groups, as a tentet,” Halvorson concludes. “I liked the notion that the projects are modular—they can exist separately or come together as one large ensemble.”
Nonesuch President David Bither says, “I am so pleased to welcome Mary to Nonesuch. We first talked a number of years ago and I said to Mary, when the time comes that you have a project that would benefit from us working together, please tell me. She sent a note about nine months into the pandemic asking if that invitation was still good, and I was happy to respond that it was. For all of the remarkable music Mary has made over the past fifteen years, I think Amaryllis and Belladonna represent a next step forward for her—which is saying a great deal given the many forward steps she has taken in her career.”
Rolling Stone said, “Mary Halvorson’s guitar playing can be challenging and at times even confrontational, but it is never conventional. A fixture in avant-garde and improvisational music circles, the New York City–based guitarist is just as likely to pick out intricate, harmonically and melodically complex lines of stunning beauty as she is to unleash a violent spray of atonal, harshly distorted six-string noise.”
Halvorson has released a series of critically acclaimed albums, from Dragon’s Head (2008), her trio debut featuring bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith, expanding to a quintet with trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon on Saturn Sings (2010) and Bending Bridges (2012), a septet with tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trombonist Jacob Garchik on Illusionary Sea (2014), and finally an octet with pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn on Away With You (2016). She also released the solo recording Meltframe (2015), and most recently debuted Code Girl (2018, 2020), a new ensemble featuring vocalist Amirtha Kidambi (singing Halvorson’s own lyrics), trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, saxophonist and vocalist María Grand, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara.
One of New York City’s most in-demand guitarists, over the past decade Halvorson has worked with such diverse musicians as Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, John Dieterich, Trevor Dunn, Bill Frisell, Ingrid Laubrock, Jason Moran, Joe Morris, Tom Rainey, Jessica Pavone, Tomeka Reid, Marc Ribot, and John Zorn. She is also part of several collaborative projects, most notably the longstanding trio Thumbscrew with Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums.