Mary Halvorson's New Album, 'Cloudward,' Out Now

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Guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson's new album, Cloudward, is out now. Halvorson performs eight new compositions with her sextet Amaryllis—the improvisatory band that performed on her acclaimed 2022 albums Amaryllis and Belladonna: Patricia Brennan (vibraphone), Nick Dunston (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Jacob Garchik (trombone), and Adam O’Farrill (trumpet). Laurie Anderson is featured on one track. The Guardian, naming Cloudward its Jazz Album of the Month, says: "Halvorson’s fusions of written and spontaneous music reach an entrancing new seamlessness and seductive warmth with this terrific set. Superb." PopMatters calls it "a shimmering, deeply satisfying example of a jazz sextet firing on all cylinders. Prepare to be astonished." Bandcamp says: "It’s only January, but it’s hard not to see this as one of the great achievements of 2024."

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Brooklyn-based guitarist, composer, and MacArthur fellow Mary Halvorson’s new album, Cloudward, is out now on Nonesuch Records; you can hear it and get it on vinyl and CD here. The album features eight new compositions by Halvorson, performed with her sextet Amaryllis; the improvisatory band that performed on her critically praised 2022 albums Amaryllis and Belladonna comprises Halvorson, Patricia Brennan (vibraphone), Nick Dunston (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Jacob Garchik (trombone), and Adam O’Farrill (trumpet). Labelmate Laurie Anderson also is featured on the album track “Incarnadine.” The dual 2022 releases’ acclaim included being named Jazz Album of the Year in DownBeat’s annual Critics Poll. Halvorson and the ensemble will tour internationally following the Cloudward release, including at the Big Ears Festival as part of Nonesuch’s 60th anniversary celebration; details and tickets at nonesuch.com/on-tour.

"Lessons learned as a live improviser and off-stage as an imaginative student of musical form have created the rare artist she’s become," says the Guardian's John Fordham in a four-star, Jazz Album of the Month review. "Halvorson’s fusions of written and spontaneous music reach an entrancing new seamlessness and seductive warmth with this terrific set. Superb."

"Since bursting on to the creative music scene in 2002, Halvorson has proved one of the most thrilling guitar players of her generation," says Fordham's Guardian colleague Andy Beta in a new feature. "Whether she’s playing in jazz ensembles, indie bands or noise improv, her tone is clean and crystalline, but liable to combust. With her latest, Cloudward, her writing reveals a newfound sense of beauty and clarity."

"One of the most original jazz guitarists of our time ... her influence and versatility have grown steadily, and her reputation and reach are indisputable," Peter Margasak writes of Bandcamp's Album of the Day. "Over time she’s diligently built up an impressive repertoire of original material for a number of different bands, but a seismic shift occurred with the appearance of her current sextet ... Halvorson’s second album with the sextet, Cloudward, includes plenty of indelible guitar playing, but it’s her astonishing growth as a composer and arranger that distinguishes the music ... It’s only January, but it’s hard not to see this as one of the great achievements of 2024."

"Mary Halvorson’s Cloudward is a shimmering, deeply satisfying example of a jazz sextet firing on all cylinders," exclaims PopMatters' Chris Ingalls, giving the album a nine out of ten. "Prepare to be astonished."

Here's a quick message from Mary Halvorson on the new album:

Halvorson says, “All of the music on Amaryllis was written in 2020, during the thick of the pandemic, in one of the more bizarre time periods I’ve experienced in my life. While composing for Amaryllis, I expanded upon certain musical concepts I’d developed in my life up until that point—the ones that felt fruitful—and left others behind, hitting the reset button and attempting to build from scratch. Two years later, after the release of the first album, I was still writing music for Amaryllis.

“All the music on Cloudward was written in 2022, mostly in the fall and winter, when things started moving forward. Life felt like a creaky machine starting up again,” she continues. “Air travel, however chaotic, had resumed, and we were once again cloudward. Performances and tours and recordings were happening after a long hiatus and with a renewed sense of gratitude. This band, for me, was quite simply working, both musically and personally, and the main thing I felt while writing the music was optimism.”

The Guardian said Halvorson’s 2022 double release “shows how far this singleminded original has come, and affords a glimpse of how far she may go. 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.” Pitchfork said, “Amaryllis and Belladonna are distinct statements; one could hear either album on its own without a sense that something is missing. But they are most powerful when taken together, like a landscape and its reflection in rippling water.”

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.

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Mary Halvorson: 'Cloudward' [cover]
  • Friday, January 19, 2024
    Mary Halvorson's New Album, 'Cloudward,' Out Now

    Brooklyn-based guitarist, composer, and MacArthur fellow Mary Halvorson’s new album, Cloudward, is out now on Nonesuch Records; you can hear it and get it on vinyl and CD here. The album features eight new compositions by Halvorson, performed with her sextet Amaryllis; the improvisatory band that performed on her critically praised 2022 albums Amaryllis and Belladonna comprises Halvorson, Patricia Brennan (vibraphone), Nick Dunston (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Jacob Garchik (trombone), and Adam O’Farrill (trumpet). Labelmate Laurie Anderson also is featured on the album track “Incarnadine.” The dual 2022 releases’ acclaim included being named Jazz Album of the Year in DownBeat’s annual Critics Poll. Halvorson and the ensemble will tour internationally following the Cloudward release, including at the Big Ears Festival as part of Nonesuch’s 60th anniversary celebration; details and tickets at nonesuch.com/on-tour.

    "Lessons learned as a live improviser and off-stage as an imaginative student of musical form have created the rare artist she’s become," says the Guardian's John Fordham in a four-star, Jazz Album of the Month review. "Halvorson’s fusions of written and spontaneous music reach an entrancing new seamlessness and seductive warmth with this terrific set. Superb."

    "Since bursting on to the creative music scene in 2002, Halvorson has proved one of the most thrilling guitar players of her generation," says Fordham's Guardian colleague Andy Beta in a new feature. "Whether she’s playing in jazz ensembles, indie bands or noise improv, her tone is clean and crystalline, but liable to combust. With her latest, Cloudward, her writing reveals a newfound sense of beauty and clarity."

    "One of the most original jazz guitarists of our time ... her influence and versatility have grown steadily, and her reputation and reach are indisputable," Peter Margasak writes of Bandcamp's Album of the Day. "Over time she’s diligently built up an impressive repertoire of original material for a number of different bands, but a seismic shift occurred with the appearance of her current sextet ... Halvorson’s second album with the sextet, Cloudward, includes plenty of indelible guitar playing, but it’s her astonishing growth as a composer and arranger that distinguishes the music ... It’s only January, but it’s hard not to see this as one of the great achievements of 2024."

    "Mary Halvorson’s Cloudward is a shimmering, deeply satisfying example of a jazz sextet firing on all cylinders," exclaims PopMatters' Chris Ingalls, giving the album a nine out of ten. "Prepare to be astonished."

    Here's a quick message from Mary Halvorson on the new album:

    Halvorson says, “All of the music on Amaryllis was written in 2020, during the thick of the pandemic, in one of the more bizarre time periods I’ve experienced in my life. While composing for Amaryllis, I expanded upon certain musical concepts I’d developed in my life up until that point—the ones that felt fruitful—and left others behind, hitting the reset button and attempting to build from scratch. Two years later, after the release of the first album, I was still writing music for Amaryllis.

    “All the music on Cloudward was written in 2022, mostly in the fall and winter, when things started moving forward. Life felt like a creaky machine starting up again,” she continues. “Air travel, however chaotic, had resumed, and we were once again cloudward. Performances and tours and recordings were happening after a long hiatus and with a renewed sense of gratitude. This band, for me, was quite simply working, both musically and personally, and the main thing I felt while writing the music was optimism.”

    The Guardian said Halvorson’s 2022 double release “shows how far this singleminded original has come, and affords a glimpse of how far she may go. 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.” Pitchfork said, “Amaryllis and Belladonna are distinct statements; one could hear either album on its own without a sense that something is missing. But they are most powerful when taken together, like a landscape and its reflection in rippling water.”

    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.

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