Jessica Pavone

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Inspired by music and avant-garde jazz, New York-based violinist/violist/composer Jessica Pavone’s music strategically combines improvisation and composition by contrasting conventional harmony with curated dissonance, and tonal and textural experimentation. A leader and collaborator, she has, since 2002′s 27 Epigrams, assembled a formidable discography on a variety of labels. In 2005, she began an ongoing recorded collaboration with guitarist Mary Halvorson for the album Prairies. Pavone’s Tzadik debut in 2009 was the contemporary classical work Songs of Synastry and Solitude for string quartet. It was cut in the middle of her seven-year performing tenure with the Anthony Braxton Sextet and 12+1tet that lasted from 2005-2012. Pavone appears on at least a dozen of his recordings. Her sophomore outing for Tzadik, 2012′s Hope Dawson Is Missing, is a widely acclaimed a song cycle for voice (Emily Manzo), the Toomai String Quintet, and a dynamic rhythm section comprised of drummer Tomas Fujiwara and Halvorson. 2016′s Silent Spills, on Relative Pitch, combined long-tone rituals with delay, understated melodies, and sparse lyrical content. She reprised that M.O. for 2019′s In the Action, just a few months before her J. Pavone String Ensemble issued Brick and Mortar.
Pavone studied classical music and music education at the Hartt School of Music, and briefly taught public school in Hartford, Connecticut. Along the way, she met improvisers and composers from nearby Wesleyan University, many of whom either studied or were affiliated with Anthony Braxton. She made her recording debut in 1998 with the Middletown Creative Orchestra, a collective mostly run by Wesleyan students. The following year she joined the Correspondence Quartet and appeared on its four-disc box set Live Performances, 1999, offering a radical approach to free improvisation with ten tracks compiled from eight concerts across the United States. The quartet derived their conceptual cues from Braxton, whose orchestral palette they emulated. Repetitive rhythms, pulsing and pounding tones, and larger-than-life sound are their hallmarks, which they weave throughout each set. Each performance distinguishes itself through the individual strategies pursued.
In 2000, Pavone moved to New York City. She formed the Peacock label to issue 2001′s Jessica Pavone & the String Army EP, and the album 27 Epigrams in 2002, a collection of miniatures for small ensembles including viola, wind instruments, and marimba. While Pavone spent time working with various other composers and improvisers in New York for the next three years, she established what remains an ongoing collaborative relationship with guitarist Mary Halvorson. The pair issued their acclaimed debut outing Prairies in 2005, the same year Pavone joined Braxton’s touring and recording sextet and 12+1tet, which included four original classical works performed by string trio, piano, and bassoon. That same year she and Halvorson re-teamed for On and Off, on Skirl, a collection of songs that featured their plaintive voices as well as their instruments. The following year they released Calling All Portraits for Skycap, and temporarily expanded their duo to a quartet by adding drummer Ches Smith and bassist Devin Hoff. The following year was a fateful one for Pavone’s career as a sideperson and collaborator. She not only worked with William Parker on his masterwork Double Sunrise Over Neptune, she appeared on Vampire Weekend’s self-titled offering and the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet’s Asphalt Flowers, Forking Paths. In 2009 Halvorson’s and Pavone’s Thin Air appeared from Thirsty Ear, comprised of vocal songs and improvisations.
Also in 2009, Pavone made her Tzadik debut with Songs of Synastry and Solitude accompanied by the Toomai String Quintet. Modeled after Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate, the set’s 11 songs for string quartet utilized melody, texture, and tactility to evoke the ghosts of what has been lost. Pavone and Halvorson released Departure of Reason for Thirsty Ear in 2011 between the violist’s concerts with Braxton; she also released Cast of Characters with Jessica Pavone's Army of Strangers, its lineup an electric guitar trio — featuring drummer Harris Eisenstadt — as well as her viola and voice. Pavone was also selected by NPR as one of their 100 Composers Under 40 that year.
In 2012, Pavone left Braxton’s employ after a dozen recordings and thousands of miles logged on the road in concert. She released her sophomore outing for Tzadik, the song cycle Hope Dawson Is Missing. Composed for voice, string quintet, and a rhythm section, the set’s tunes meditate on themes of destruction rebirth, truth and falsehoods, and migration. The album garnered acclaim globally. In 2014, released the first of her solo offerings, Knuckle Under for solo viola and voice, on Taiga. The set’s recordings stemmed from years of concentrated long-tone practice and a nearly obsessive interest in repetition, song form, and “sympathetic vibration”. Pavone combined her long-tone rituals with delay in understated melodies and while continuously experimenting with new forms. She followed it with a second solo viola outing, Silent Springs, on Relative Pitch in 2016. It appeared the same year as the premier recording of Braxton’s massive-length opera Trillium J, in which she served as part of its star-studded orchestra. In 2019 Pavone released In the Action, her third solo viola outing. Thematically composed, it highlighted her longtime interest in tactile experience and the use of the body during the creation of sound. Its indeterminate pieces were written exclusively for performance by the composer. Later that year, Pavone issued Brick and Mortar by the J. Pavone String Ensemble, a studio group she formed two years earlier. The foundation of her compositions for this group was her research into cymatics — the effects of sonic vibration on human physiology and emotional health. Pavone employed sustained sounds, pitches, and clusters of ensemble sound to generate specific physical and cognitive reactions/benefits, that registered beyond any aesthetic response to the music. ~ Thom Jurek