Code Girl (Firehouse 12)

Mary Halvorson

Released March 30, 2018

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2018

2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll Top 10 Best New Album




Guitarist and composer MARY HALVORSON has been described as “a singular talent” (Lloyd Sachs, JazzTimes), ”NYC’s least-predictable improviser” (Howard Mandel, City Arts), “one of the most exciting and original guitarists in jazz—or otherwise” (Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal), and “one of today’s most formidable bandleaders” (Francis Davis, Village Voice), and in recent Downbeat Critics Polls she has been celebrated as guitarist, rising star jazz artist, and rising star composer of the year.

Halvorson has released a series of critically acclaimed albums on the Firehouse 12 label, from Dragon’s Head (2008), her trio debut featuring bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith, expanding to a quintet with trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon on Saturn Sings (2010) and Bending Bridges (2012), a septet with tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trombonist Jacob Garchik on Illusionary Sea (2014), and finally an octet with pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn on Away With You (2016). She also released the solo recording Meltframe (2015), and most recently debuted Code Girl (2018), a new ensemble featuring vocalist Amirtha Kidambi (singing Halvorson’s own lyrics), trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara.

One of New York City’s most in-demand guitarists, over the past decade Halvorson has worked with such diverse musicians as Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, John Dieterich, Trevor Dunn, Bill Frisell, Ingrid Laubrock, Jason Moran, Joe Morris, Tom Rainey, Jessica Pavone, Tomeka Reid, Marc Ribot and John Zorn. She is also part of several collaborative projects, most notably the longstanding trio Thumbscrew with Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums.

Track Listing:

Disc 1

1. My Mind I Find in Time (Mary Halvorson) 06:44

2. Possibility of Lightning (Mary Halvorson) 06:18

3. Storm Cloud (Mary Halvorson) 10:01

4. Pretty Mountain (Mary Halvorson) 06:18

5. Off the Record (Mary Halvorson) 05:34

6. In the Second Before (Mary Halvorson) 05:51

7. Accurate Hit (Mary Halvorson) 04:05

Disc 2

1. The Beast (Mary Halvorson) 05:59

2. The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon (Mary Halvorson) 11:28

3. Thunderhead (Mary Halvorson) 05:03

4. And (Mary Halvorson) 06:28

5. Deepest Similar (Mary Halvorson) 08:16

6. Armory Beams (Mary Halvorson) 01:07

7. Drop the Needle (Mary Halvorson) 06:59


Amirtha Kidambi: voice
Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet
Mary Halvorson: guitar
Michael Formanek: bass
Tomas Fujiwara: drums

Recorded December 16th and 17th, 2016 at Firehouse 12
Recorded, Mixed, and Mastered by Nick Lloyd
Graphic Design by Megan Craig
Produced by Mary Halvorson, David Breskin, and Nick Lloyd


In a relatively short time, Mary Halvorson has become one of the most unique guitarists and composers on the vanguard jazz scene. Over some 22 albums, Halvorson has developed an expressive musical strategy that is as idiosyncratic as it is provocative; no genre seems beyond her grasp.

Code Girl is not only the title of this double-length album — comprising some 14 songs and nearly 90 minutes of music — but also the name of a new quintet that includes bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara from her Thumbscrew trio, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and vocalist/bandleader Amirtha Kidambi (Elder Ones). Halvorson penned all the words and music in tunes that, often enough, leave ample room for improvisation. With Kidambi at the center of a swirling unit of sound, the listener will not find, let alone be able to hold on to, the comfort of verse-chorus-bridge architecture. Instead, with Kidambi — a singer trained in the South Indian Carnatic tradition — as the focal point, Halvorson capably marries many of her musical interests, from vanguard and straight-ahead jazz to indie rock, improvisation, trad pop balladry, and art song. An idiosyncratic inner timbral and tonal logic lies at the core of her songs, while her lyric meanings are fluid and permeable. “My Mind I Find in Time” is introduced by looped guitar passages that evoke Nigerian hi-life before evolving into an ostinato vamp that recalls King Crimson’s “Starless.” The languid melody sung by Kidambi is painted with gorgeous counterpoint from Akinmusire. The singer alternates between wordless expression and Halvorson’s poetry as the band builds a plank for drama and intensity. Tracks such as “Pretty Mountain” and “Accurate Hit” are mutant pop songs. The former is expanded to near indefinability by Akinmusire’s solo, while the latter is a guitar and vocal duet with Halvorson effecting various tonalities via the use of a slide as Kidambi employs her lower range to highlight lyric ambiguities. In longer pieces such as “Storm Cloud” and “The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon,” the listener gets a deeper, more comprehensive appreciation for the group’s exploratory sonic approach. Rock is never far away, but there is also substantial room for harmonic excavation and jazz cadences. Both tunes commence with almost conventional melodies before the interplay between vocals and frontline players extrapolate and expand their margins, morphing them into music heretofore unknown and possibly unimagined. “The Beast” begins as an indie rock waltz before engaging, angular, even speculative post-bop as a vehicle. The instrumental “Thunderhead” commences with a hard bop head before journeying into psychedelia, space age tango, and Gabor Szabo-esque blues that the rhythm section stretches with tempo and time changes. Closer “Drop the Needle” flirts with art-funk, chamber jazz, and tuneful, avant-pop turning back on itself with a mercurial elegance. Code Girl is one of the more provocative recordings of 2018. It recontextualizes musical boundaries into concentrated yet fleeting moments that require attention and care, while creating an immersive listening experience as accessible as it is challenging.

Thom Jurek (AllMusic)