Mary Halvorson Trio, Bennetts Lane, 11pm, June 10
Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011
Mary Halvorson guitar, John Hebert bass, Ches Smith drums
It was late at night when Halvorson’s trio was setting up. Bennetts Lane Megan Evans introduced the trio and could have murdered “that man at the bar talking on his mobile phone” … but she didn’t.
It probably says something about my lack of it, but I admit to being distracted by the guitarist’s hair. I could see that when Halvorson settled down to play she was going to literally let her hair down — not in a musical sense, but that it was going to fall in a curtain all around her face, forming a sort of cocoon. She would be in a world of hair own, I posted later to Facebook.
I was also distracted, and really pleased, to discover that the drummer I had loved so much at the Forum upstairs earlier with Tim Berne’s Los Totopos, Ches Smith, was a member of Halvorson’s trio. Melbourne drummer extraordinaire Ronny Ferella alerted me to this fact — fairly obvious to everybody else given that Smith was sitting in front of us at the drum kit — while agreeing that this young drummer really has talent.
Smith looked pretty tired, and at times during the first set of three pieces he seemed to go on to automatic pilot. But for my money he was the standout performer of this gig. During the first few minutes of the trio’s first piece a significant cymbal went flying off its stand, though Smith does not strike me (get it?) as a smash & bash drummer. He does go at it hard at times, but he’s a lot more interesting than that. There is variation, responsiveness and a sense of complete involvement with the music that make him great to hear, and to watch.
I had to leave to catch a train after the first set, wimping out (as Megan suggested), so this post relates to only the first half. John Hebert on bass was impressive.
Mary Halvorson has a strong feel to her work, but on this occasion there did not seem to be a lot of variation. From this half concert it seemed she was deliberate and considered rather than being at all showy in her playing. In fact, in these three pieces she seemed almost restrained. The sound was less about individual notes and had a more gravelly feel. Pedals were present, but not used flamboyantly.
Am I saying Halvorson was not exciting? Possibly, on this occasion, when I think about it, that sums it up. But neither her playing nor her trio was at all boring. I think there was a contained yet sustained feel, with plenty of tension and interest, but not the sort of virtuosic high points that you may get from a James Muller or John Scofield.
Another set would have been good. Hearing Smith again was the highlight for me.