Last Year’s J. Pavone String Ensemble album on Astral Spirits showed Pavone’s continued growth as a composer. With Lull, that potential comes into full view. To realize the vision of these pieces, she assembled an octet that includes the String Ensemble’s Abby Swidler on viola (Pavone also plays viola), violinists Aimée Niemann and Charlotte Munn-Wood, cellists Christopher Hoffman and Meaghan Burke, and bassists Shayna Dulberger and Nicholas Jozwiak. Soloists Brian Chase (percussion) and Nate Wooley (Bb trumpet) were also recruited, and from there this vast web of performers breathes life into these calming, emotionally rich compositions.
Lull is built on trust and intuition. Pavone builds compositions around structured improvisations where the musicians are directed to shift between phrases at specific points in time, but in between are free to move at their own speed, resonating in the subtleties of the open pitches Lull focuses on. With this freedom, the music rises effortlessly. Opener “Indolent” starts slow, the cadence gentle and lilting as the space starts to condense and a surprising intimacy emerges. The sound grows, intertwining in unexpected ways, a sense of relief building in the droning timbres. Togetherness nurtures warmth and “Indolent” welcomes all into the sonic expanse of Lull.
Both soloists simultaneously blend into the aural cocoons of Lull while creating shapes outside the intonated path. Chase, using amplified cymbal and snare drum, brings an organic tension to “Holt.” The early rolls bubble beneath quick string work, aerated squeals swarmed and consumed by melodic bass strums. A sharpness arrives with Chase hammering the snare with greater urgency before bowed strings surge to soften the edges. Again, the movements are hypnotic, but the feeling is open, unsinkable. When Pavone approached Chase and Wooley, she asked, “What’s your favorite note to play?” From there, new worlds opened up and by inviting them into the process, a beguiling symbiosis materializes.
Wooley, for his part, dances effortlessly across the forlorn atmosphere of “Ingot.” More than any other piece on Lull, “Ingot” shows the drone elements in Pavone’s toolkit with long harmonic stretches where notes hang in the stillness, searching for any avenue to escape. Wooley’s solo is emotive, drawing strength from the placid sadness in the string movements to untangle tragedy and create a restorative breath. Togetherness, again, nurtures warmth presented on the silver cloud of the contemplative “Midmost,” to close the album.
Jessica Pavone continues her skyward trajectory with Lull. With every new composition, her effectiveness at capturing moments and turning them into grand, moving opportunities for a diverse cast of musicians to bring their own voice to her table, grows. It is music to get lost within and by letting go and following the example Pavone sets out by how she composes, we can find something surprising within ourselves.
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