World-class guitarist Mary Halvorson performs free show

Find out how her prized possession contributes to her freakish talent

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World-class guitarist Mary Halvorson performs free show
Photo by Andy Newcombe. Design by Jim Ivy


7:30 p.m. Monday, July 1 | Timucua White House, 2000 S. Summerlin Ave. | | free

A ’50s Premier guitar is guitarist Mary Halvorson’s choice apparatus for jazz invention – the imperfect ax creates the unusual feedback she uses to her advantage. The antique hollow-body is a Frankenstein monster, with a full-scale neck and three-quarter size body.

“It’s this big arch top – there’s buzzes and you can hear the wood,” Halvorson says. “You can really hear all the little nuances of the instrument, and I think it’s really nice when those things come across. I kind of like the things that make the sound unique and different, so I try to work with those things instead of against.”

Her guitar sounds huddled in a deft boogie, the virtuoso’s fluent fingers communicate dexterously with a fretboard. Together with the three, five, or seven musicians assembled at any given point, the group forms an improvised narrative almost without speaking. Halvorson’s affinity for a “more organic sound” contributes to the quirky, unpredictable quality of the ensemble’s progressive jive. 

For the next few weeks, local jazz enthusiasts may find their hearts beating in straight eights while guitarist Mary Halvorson holds residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach. Halvorson is a passed-around wayfarer in the jazz scene with a reputation for ingenious breaks and an ever-revolving lineup of backup players. She’s been exploring the get-down in the U.S. and Europe and performed on more than 40 recordings in the past year alone. From her stringed prowess and active schedule, it’s obvious she’s living the dream and she’s damn good at it too. Halvorson will perform new material she’s played a select few times live with Florida players cribbed from Sam Rivers’ band and assembled by the Civic Minded 5: Tom Parmerter (trumpet), David Pate (alto saxophone), Dan Jordan (tenor saxophone), Keith Oshiro (trombone) and Doug Mathews (bass). Additionally, Halvorson brings drummer Tomas Fujiwara, a regular collaborator. The septet will meet and collaborate for the first time in preparation for the Orlando show.

“New people always bring something fresh to it, and they always take music in a new direction that you might not expect, so I find it really exciting,” Halvorson says. “I’ve heard great things about these musicians, so I think it will be very cool.”

But it’s her clever blend of genres and elusive rhythms that make her compositions alluring and abstract. She says, “My interests kind of change as time goes by, from jazz to rock and so on. I don’t want to feel confined by a genre. I’m just kind of going with whatever strikes my interests, which is a lot of jazz as of recently and folk music as well. I try to combine things in an interesting way, and I am always down to go into new areas.”

“There’s a lot of communication and understanding,” Halvorson says. “In trusting other musicians, you can really go wherever you want – try to bring something in a new direction, back up what someone else is doing or just stop playing and see what happens. There’s so many possibilities that you just have to challenge yourself and [end up] trying to maybe do something that you feel hasn’t been done exactly before. I’ve been with projects that are much less structured, or more structured, or more melodic or weirder, and I like having that variety as well.”

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