Hot Tracks

A jazz guitar duet album is a rare beast and this one offers much reward as it teams avant-garde guitarist Mary Halvorson with musician Bill Frisell, who is firmly rooted in folk and Americana.

The duo have come together on musician John Zorn's Tzadik label to pay tribute to yet another guitarist, the much underrated Johnny Smith. Frisell, who studied with Smith at the University of North Colorado, and Halvorson are unlikely devotees of Smith's dreamily lyrical, staunchly traditional style.

But from this stripped-down album, it is evident they have found much to admire in their predecessor's melodic clarity.

The title track, composed by Claude Debussy who was a favourite of Smith's, is a mini lesson in styles and technique as it runs for more than eight minutes. Showcasing Halvorson's penchant for sound experimentation, notes are stretched and bent, and reverb is employed to glowing effect even as the duo play with time. There are three Debussy tracks, including Scarlet Ribbons For Her Hair and Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair.

The rest of the album features the classic jazz repertoire Smith played so sweetly and which Halvorson and Frisell deliver with fresh effect. Straight jazz fans will love the no-fuss delivery of classics like Moonlight In Vermont, Shenandoah and Misty.

Most exhilarating is the light-as-a-feather album closer, Walk Don't Run, in which Halvorson improvises Bach-like stepped notes over Frisell's steady strumming chords.

  • JAZZ

    THE MAID WITH THE FLAXEN HAIR: A TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY SMITH

    Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell

    Tzadik

    5 stars

A must-listen for guitar aficionados.

Ong Sor Fern

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2018, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe