Artlessly Falling (Firehouse 12)

Mary Halvorson Code Girl 

Released October 30, 2020

JazzTimes Top 20 New Jazz Releases of 2020

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2020




Artlessly Falling is the second album by Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl. Its core remains Halvorson on guitar; Tomas Fujiwara on drums; Amirtha Kidambi on vocals, and Michael Formanek on bass. Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill replaces Ambrose Akinmusire, and Maria Grand is added on tenor saxophone and voice. The date also includes three vocal cameos by Robert Wyatt. A primary influence on Halvorson, she composed these songs especially for him. Her lyrics throughout reflect not only detailed attention but a methodology in which each poem strategically conforms to its accompanying musical construct. Artlessly Falling showcases deeply focused, expansively articulated, abstract musical languages that remain warm and welcoming, even amid dissonance.

Track Listing:

1. The Lemon Trees (Mary Halvorson) 07:15

2. Last-Minute Smears (Mary Halvorson) 08:58

3. Walls and Roses (Mary Halvorson) 03:34

4. Muzzling Unwashed (Mary Halvorson) 10:52

5. Bigger Flames (Mary Halvorson) 05:16

6. Mexican War Streets (Pittsburgh) (Mary Halvorson) 10:40

7. A Nearing (Mary Halvorson) 10:29

8. Artlessly Falling (Mary Halvorson) 07:17


Amirtha Kidambi: voice
Maria Grand: tenor saxophone, voice
Adam O’Farrill: trumpet
Mary Halvorson: guitar
Michael Formanek: bass
Tomas Fujiwara: drums, beer cans (2)
Robert Wyatt: voice (1, 3, 5)

Recorded December 8th & 9th, 2019 by Nick Lloyd & Greg DiCrosta
Additional recording by Ian James Stewart
Mixed & Mastered June 2020 by Nick Lloyd
Graphic design by Megan Craig
Produced by Mary Halvorson with Nick Lloyd & David Breskin


The songs on the second album by Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl feature improvisation, but as compositions they feel a great deal closer to art songs or new music than anything within arm’s length of jazz. That’s not a bad thing, especially since the first voice heard on Artlessly Falling belongs to art rock’s grand elder statesman Robert Wyatt. With his high, wispy voice continuing to captivate at age 75, he appears on three of the eight compositions, whose lyrics (all penned by Halvorson) were written in eight different poetic forms. Code Girl vocalist Amirtha Kidambi joins him on “Walls and Roses” and handles the other five herself, in spellbinding harmony on a few with tenor saxophonist María Grand. When Grand isn’t singing, she makes an equally eerie blend with trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, who fills the spot occupied by Ambrose Akinmusire on the group’s previous album.

The poetic forms and their vocal execution—which sometimes stretches syllables to operatic lengths—make the accompanying lyric book a mandatory, and engrossing, part of the listening experience. While some songs appear to contain some abstract political commentary, “Last-Minute Smears” doesn’t hold back, with lyrics based on fragments of Brett Kavanaugh’s Congressional testimony. Halvorson intersperses her signature bent-note sound with flashes of distorted power chords and clean picking. All comes to a head in the closing title track, which begins with just vocals and guitar, then builds until the sextet creates a free-falling squall that still manages to maintain a harmonic structure beneath Kidambi’s vocals. Rounded out by Halvorson’s Thumbscrew bandmates, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, Code Girl offers a challenging listen, but one that rewards close examination.

Mike Shanley (JazzTimes)