Mary Halvorson and Randy Peterson at The Stone 1/30/18 (by Noah Berman)

PERSONNEL: Mary Halvorson (electric guitar), Randy Peterson (drums)

SET LIST: Improvisations 1-4 (Halvorson/Peterson)

HIGHLIGHTS: After several minutes of untreated guitar, Halvorson hit a distorted chord and made a loop out of the decaying sustain. In this moment, she discovered what would be the key strategy for the set – the interplay between free drumming and precise digital echoes and loops.

Mary Halvorson and Randy Peterson joined forces for the first time on Tuesday, performing a series of four extended improvisations. Peterson created energy and movement while avoiding specific pulses or meters. Halvorson developed and transformed motivic content and created texture and depth with effects.

Halvorson began Improvisations 1 and 4 with simple melodic themes based on an [024] trichord and a perfect 4th interval, respectively. This material functioned in several ways. Initially she applied techniques of motivic transformation to generate more related material. Then, after the music brought the duo to a new area, she could return to these initial cells, effectively restating the theme. Finally, with the ability to create loops she could juxtapose a secondary area with these melodies. Improvisation 2 stood out for its blues implications. Frequent use of A7 and D7 chords, in combination with a prominent echo patch, placed elements of the blues in a cosmic dub setting. Throughout the set, Halvorson also used effects to create fleeting sonic accents, sometimes turning a distortion on and off quickly, or activating a tremolo effect just as a feedbacking note died off.

The most unique and interesting moments in the set came when Halvorson contrasted Peterson’s unmetered playing with a steady pulse. Most often this was accomplished with an echo effect or loop. In isolation, these passages could suggest Bill Frisell, Lee “Scratch” Perry, or Steve Reich. In combination with Peterson’s unmetered playing, these pulse-oriented sounds created tension and contrast. The finale of Improvisation 3 featured this concept at its most exciting and dramatic. Here Halvorson eschewed all effects and steadily picked out a set of arpeggios worthy of Slint. The repetition of the riff, its inherent harmonic tension, and the rhythmic rub of Peterson’s energy-based drumming made for a decisive climax.

by Noah Berman