Album of the Week: Mary Halvorson | Belladonna & Amaryllis

Belladonna is composer and guitarist Mary Halvorson and The Mivos Quartet performing five Halvorson compositions, her first for string quartet.

The Mivos Quartet parts are through-composed while Halvorson improvises along. Seeing as both parts are born from her fertile mind, the line between composition and improvisation are blurred in time. I hear Belladonna as a delicate dance, weaving each player in and out of focus, curling lines around lines, drawing movements in space like an elaborate avian mating ritual in air.

Belladonna is part of a pair of albums by Halvorson, both released on Nonesuch last week. The other, Amaryllis, is equally involving with a quintet of improvisers including Patricia Brennan (vibraphone), Nick Dunston (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Jacob Garchik (trombone), and Adam O’Farrill (trumpet) joining Halvorson’s guitar. The Mivos Quarter—Olivia De Prato (violin), Maya Bennardo (violin), Victor Lowrie Tafoya (viola), and Tyler J. Borden (cello)—join here as well on three songs.

My time with these records has Belladonna pulling me in deeper, its sparse sound feeling less familiar and more fertile, but we’ll see what time and repeat plays have in store.