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På skive



Illegal Crowns is the quartet that brings together the long-time collaborative trio of American guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara (both work together in Halvorson’s various bands, Fujiwara’s Triple double, Thumscrew and Tomeka Reid quartet), and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum (who hosts Halvorson and Fujiwara in his extent, plays in Halvorson Quintet and hosts her in his 0-tette), with the French pianist Benoît Delbecq (who collaborated before with Bynum in François Houle 5 + 1). Unclosing is the third album of Illegal Quartet, following the self-titled debut album and The No-Nosed Puppet (RogueArt, 2016 and 2019), and it was recorded after two days of rehearsals in New York and a five-city tour at Firehouse 12 in New Haven in June 2022.

Halvorson, Fujiwara, Bynum and Delbecq are experienced composers, improvisers and bandleaders with strong, singular voices and unique musical visions of their own, but Illegal Crowns is a true collective. Halvorson, Fujiwara and Delbecq contributed original compositions written specifically for the quartet (Bynum wrote compositions for Illegal Crowns’ previous albums), and the new nine compositions offer generous room to express the individual approaches. The dynamics of this quartet highlight a rare and profound deep listening, complete trust and supporting one another through every unexpected turn.

The music of Illegal Crowns presents Halvorson, Fujiwara, Bynum and Delbecq at the top of their game, using the legacy of modern jazz, contemporary music and free improvisation to develop their unique collective language and approach as an ensemble. The compositions sound wise and complex but enjoy beautiful themes and driving grooves and suggest poetic solos by the four, gifted musicians. The cover artwork by TJ Huff addresses the suggestive music universes of Illegal Crowns.

It is almost impossible to select the most outstanding compositions of this new set of compositions but Halvorson’s introspective and lyrical, title piece with its intriguing voicings and careful tension building, offers one of the most beautiful and touching melodies. Her closing piece, the subtle «Soul of the Gray» also has a most beautiful and peaceful melody. Fujiwara’s «Fading Wave» sketches a mysterious, minimalist-cyclical melody, with Delbecq’s hypnotic prepared piano sounds, Halvorson’s effects-laden solo and Bynum’s fragile ethereal playing. Delbecq’s «Freud and Jung Go Cycling» suggests an imaginative, elusive but also ironic story.

Unclosing is one of the great albums of 2023.

Eyal Hareuveni 

Tomas Fujiwara (dr), Taylor Ho Bynum (cor, flh), Mary Halvorson (g), Benoît Delbecq (p) 

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