Dragon's Head is acclaimed Brooklyn-based guitarist / composer Mary Halvorson's debut recording as a bandleader. Recorded at Firehouse 12's state of the art studio in New Haven, it features ten new original compositions written specifically for her working trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith. She has previously composed music for recordings with her chamber music duo with violist Jessica Pavone and the avant-rock duo, People, with drummer Kevin Shea, but this is her first release alone at the helm of her own ensemble.
"I have always gravitated towards the guitar / bass / drum trio format," writes Ms. Halvorson in the liner notes. "I have wanted to write for this instrumentation for years, but this project is the first time I have actually attempted it. This trio is also a great excuse to work with two of my favorite musicians; I wrote all of these songs with Ches and John's playing in mind. I also took it as an opportunity to experiment with different compositional forms, as well as varying harmonic, melodic and rhythmic components."
The New York Times' Ben Ratliff writes, "It took only a few seconds to see the good sense in the band: no matter how abstruse the music can get, it rested on a strong, simple principle of balance and contrast." Guitar Player's Elliott Sharp adds, "While the group uses acoustic bass and clearly lies within the 'jazz' camp, it sounds like no other...dissonant arpeggios melding into pounding odd-meter repetitive grooves, spidery textures becoming cracked melodies, and jazzy vamps fragmenting into vicious free-form interactions, with Halvorson wrenching blistering lines and rude sounds from her guitar."
Mary Halvorson :: guitar
John Hebert :: string bass
Ches Smith :: drums
"It is an auspicious outing in that her style within the modern creative improvised idiom leaves little doubt as to her immense talent, and resounds in a listener's head with a sense of both bewilderment and satisfaction. It is not a stretch to tag her as not only a new voice in new music, but also a figure to watch as she develops a further extension of her already innovative approach to original 21st century sounds." (Michael G. Nastos, AllMusic. com)
"She produces the sounds necessary to each piece by whatever technique seems best suited. It's richly nuanced music and testimony to Halvorson's refreshing belief that making a record isn't just about documenting one more stage in the process and then moving blithely on. It's a powerful experience..."
(Brian Morton, Jazz Review)
"The wide melodic leaps characteristic of her playing evoke Dolphy and the transparent complexity of her lines are oddly reminiscent of Ornette, and liberation replaces stuffy jazz political correctness. Here's a young musician entirely comfortable in her own skin-she's closer to the true spirit of jazz than many who self consciously mull over its past glories, but end up fiddling with licks." (Philip Clark, Jazz Review)
"A singular talent, Brooklyn-based guitarist Mary Halvorson has come into her own as a composer and improviser with her trio debut, Dragon's Head...light years ahead of her peers, she is the most impressive guitarist of her generation. The future of jazz guitar starts here." (Troy Collins, AllAboutJazz. com)
"..a body of highly individualistic music shot through with the singular energy that only comes from musicians improvising together...the music assumes a singular life of its own. This is intriguing enough to have the listener returning repeatedly to its pleasures, and indeed rejoicing in the overall program's sheer delight in striking out for new pastures." (Nic Jones, AllAboutJazz. com)
"Accompanied by bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith, Halvorson immediately reveals herself as an enticing new voice on Dragon's Head...she is not afraid to confound your conceptions of her work. Just when you think you have her pegged for her flat, dry amplifier tone-reminiscent of her former teacher Joe Morris-she throws something at you like the amplifier histrionics on "Momentary Lapse." All of which makes Mary Halvorson my early choice for artist of the year and an absolute pick for someone to listen for in the future." (James Hale, Jazz Chronicles)
"Halvorson's compositional voice is every bit as distinctive as her instrumental prowess, with most pieces boasting unpredictable swerves in direction and contrasts in energy, meter and mood. Halvorson reinvents the role of the guitar as a generator of texture and percussive drive, though deploying her palette of effects judiciously. Fitting well with the Firehouse 12 label's burgeoning reputation for the unconventional, this album warrants repeated listens, taking time to yield up its many secrets." (John Sharpe, AllAboutJazz. com)
"More than an auspicious debut, it is among this year's standout jazz albums and one of the more original recent statements by any jazz guitarist, let alone a female jazz guitarist." (Nate Chinen, New York Times)
"Still a new voice, Mary Halvorson takes an approach to the guitar based more on skill than on sonic annihilation-not that there's anything wrong with that. Her style doesn't require an arsenal of effects pedals, just Halvorson's imaginative mind. With bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith, "Momentary Lapse (No. 1)" is full of stop-on-a-dime tempo changes, angular rhythms and fleeting moments of uneasy beauty. Halvorson isn't afraid to rock out Hendrix-style, albeit with fractured chord changes and scales falling like pterodactyls from heaven." (Lars Gotrich, NPR. org)
"She possesses impressive technique, a broad, instrumental vocabulary and she is a canny caster of players and a strong writer...she adapts [Jimi Hendrix's] voluptuous bent notes and broad dynamic range to a generally clean and jazz-rooted tone, the better to perceive the group's detailed interplay; even on the stomp-box showcase "Momentary Lapse," her playing is as brisk and clear as a sunny winter day." (Bill Meyer, DownBeat)
"Mary Halvorson is the freshest, busiest, most critically acclaimed guitar-slinger out of downtown Manhattan / Brooklyn right now, a former student and current band member of Anthony Braxton's at the hub of a circle of ultra-smart, almost 30-year-old players prodigiously contributing to each other's projects. On Dragon's Head, in transparent collaboration with upright bassist John Hebert and coloristic drummer Ches Smith, she taps a surprising range of ideas and moods, lyrically but also ironically, turning without warning from dry understatement to unabashed noise, hyper-folksiness to intellectualism, plain-spokenness to interesting abstraction, with unusual if unshowy chops." (Howard Mandel, Jazz Beyond Jazz)
"...her tunes are packed with astringent melodies, bursts of noise and unexpected twists." (Peter Margasak, DownBeat)
"CHOC...La revelation de l'annee." (Thierry Lepin, Jazzman)
"Halvorson's original style blends the avant-garde ideas of Derek Bailey and Fred Frith with the rhythmic approaches of Jimi Hendrix and Bill Frisell and sounds like none of them. The disc, recorded in New Haven at Firehouse 12, has great sonic presence and this music breathes fire." (Richard Kamins, Hartford Courant)
"After a series of eventful recordings with master restructuralist Anthony Braxton, guitarist Mary Halvorson has just started emerging as a leader. Her new trio disc Dragon's Head shows off her tough, richly atmospheric picking, full of just-right dissonances in the tradition of Monk or Andrew Hill. It also reveals a striking composer, her tunes elegant networks of gear-changes, silences and felicitous repetitions that are less a personal style than an entire musical language." (Nate Dorward, Exclaim!)
"As close as you can get to 'rising star' in the avant-garde, Halvorson, a Braxton disciple, is that rarest of out players: A guitarist whose startling effect relies not on sonics but on jarringly angular composition and improvisation."
(Evan Haga, JazzTimes)
"Tense, noisy, a little arch, the first album from this jazz guitarist (with the bassist John Hebert and the drummer Ches Smith) has the power of a manifesto and the self-assurance that comes with smart composition and arrangement. Best of all: this is a group, with its own compound personality." (Ben Ratliff, New York Times)
"Probably the most original jazz guitarist to emerge this decade, Mary Halvorson has already distinguished herself in projects with Anthony Braxton, in a folksy, genre-bending duo with violist Jessica Pavone, as a member of Taylor Ho Bynum's sextet, and in the art-rock duo People, among many other contexts-but on Dragon's Head, with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith, she distills all her vast talents as a composer, improviser, and sound explorer into one compact ensemble." (Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader)
"The guitarist leads a Hendrix-inspired trio featuring bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith through a set of her own intuitively designed compositions. Between her unconventional approach to structure and her thorny guitar style, however, it's impossible to tell where composition ends and improv begins, and vice versa; the effect is not unlike watching a cat unfurl a ball of yarn, with no telling which directions the string might end up going but, ultimately, a layout of distinct but unusual patterns." (Michael J. West, Washington City Paper)
"Halvorson's lines skitter off of Hebert's bounding rich-toned bass, while Smith's percussion drives things along with a loose, stuttering free swing. This is a finely honed trio, but they never sound constrained by the complexity of the pieces. Instead, the recording reveals a group that revels in the way the forms allows them to explore such broad musical territory." (Michael Rosenstein, Signal to Noise)
"This zeal for things that are "unsafe" is what makes Halvorson's music so fresh. At the heart of it all is the slightly raw, emphatic, unvarnished sound of Halvorson's guitar." (Jason Bivins, Dusted)
"Halvorson's approach to writing this music draws as much-if not more-from contemporary left-field rock as it does free improvisation or jazz, and it just might happen that Dragon's Head is the best indie-rock record to have come down the pike in quite a while. Perhaps surprisingly, Dragon's Head is not entirely a display of Halvorson's twisted brand of extended technique, pulling in her acumen for writing songs that take as many twists as Fred Frith after binging on Polvo records. This is nasty stuff." (Clifford Allen, Bagatellen)br>
"It is one of the most refreshing discs I have heard in a couple of years." (Matthew Lavoie, Voice of America)
"Dall'incedere polveroso di "Sank Silver Purple White" alle accelerazioni e decelerazioni di "Scant Frame," passando per le allucinazioni quasi baileyane di "Too Many Ties," il disco e un vero gioiello, un ponte tra la forma jazz e le suggestioni post rock, in grado di portare la musica, nella sua tensione tra individualita e collettivo, tra ricerca e incanto, comunque la vogliate classificare, verso il futuro!" (Enrico Bettinello, AllAboutJazz-Italia)
"In her notes to this recording she mentions, surprisingly, that this is the first time she has written for the standard guitar trio. I find it hard to believe, as Dragon's Head is so accomplished a recording. This is post-Bill Frisell guitar, a new voice on the instrument, and for that alone you should hear it." (Philip McNally, Cadence)
"While her appearances on albums with violist Jessica Pavone, the inimitable Anthony Braxton, and avant-rock band People are all worth seeking out, Dragon's Head is a beautifully fractured reflection of Halvorson's personal aesthetic. Clearly, this is someone who grew up on Jimi Hendrix and found her way to jazz, but has never really cared to differentiate between the two." (Lars Gotrich, NPR's A Blog Supreme)
"Guitarist and Anthony Braxton alumnus Halvorson works here with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith to present a fascinating set of pieces on the avant-garde side. The compositions are all hers, and she enjoys experimenting with unusual rhythms, textures, and contrasts. Melodic passages are interwoven with denser, rhythmically challenging segments, all to good effect. The musicians work well together and collectively create a good balance of structure and free improvisation. Full of surprises, this is an excellent one for guitar fans." (Jeff Wanser, CD Hotlist)
"Dragon's Head comprises ten compositions, from which she summons plenty of mystery, tricky patterns, compelling lines and explosive energy. And while she admits to appreciating such maverick guitarists as Derek Bailey, Joe Morris (with whom she studied briefly), Marc Ribot and Nels Cline, her style is a singular one, characterised by crisp, understated figures, accentuated strums, sparse use of distortion that throbs with implication, explosions from the collision of the offhand with the wound-tight." (Howard Mandel, The Wire)