Jessica Pavone “When No One Around You is There but Nowhere to be Found”

Jessica Pavone’s ensemble works have been listening staples in the past few years, but her solo viola recordings have a visceral edge that’s saturated with an ebullient joy. Her work is always engaging in the way she charts tonal passages and plays with tempo, yet when it’s just her and the viola, the gravity is different. Whether she’s practicing extended drone techniques or spirited, bouncy plucks behind looping spoken word, When No One Around You is There but Nowhere to be Found is an absorbing listen.

Album opener “Performance Novels” leans on the building urgency of repeating patterns. Sharp resonance slices through the fading sheen glossing each stretched note as Pavone slowly rocks back and forth on her bow. Elongated tones repeat but shift. The length each note is held gets shorter as she begins to move up and down changing sequences, persistence being tested as she lets off the gas again. The arrangement follows similar paths throughout its 8-minute lifespan, elevating Pavone’s raw playing into a mesmerizing spectacle.

Where When No One Around You… really surprises, though, is how each of these four pieces occupies a singular space. Pavone’s sculptural playing style is the only constant, but she uses it in so many different ways. The title track opens with echoing, gently-muted pensive loops propelled with a progressive cadence before Pavone’s lilting tones pierce the shrouded veil and point straight ahead. Moments of virtuosic scaling create a sense of impermanence before the piece dissolves into a fuzz-laden drone.

Continuing into even more unexpected zones, Pavone’s spoken word is fed through different effects to heighten the surreal nature of “Only in Dreamz.” This is my favorite song on the album because it’s just so bizarre and wonderful. Her off-kilter vocal intonations follow the plucked viola notes in dizzying fashion. As the longest track on the album, “Only in Dreamz” starts making me feel a little bananas before it fades out, but that’s part of its appeal. It fools listeners with this playful spectacle, but there’s an intensity that is building in the background ready to let loose. Once it does, my head is spinning.

Jessica Pavone continues showing that she has a lot of tools in her bag on When No One Around You Is There but Nowhere to be Found. She closes the album leaning on that unbalanced fervor of “Only in Dreamz” by pushing her viola into harsh, dissonant places with “Aednat.” Paint melts off the walls in the high-frequency stretches while she charts a new course, playing empathetic laments until the end. She is fantastic as ever.

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