I have to admit that I didn’t familiarize myself enough with the first Porter Records release I’ve reviewed (Zenlo’s Skelethal Antics), but when I received Jessica Pavone’s Army of Strangers I was significantly more prepared and entered the battle in much better mood. Jessica Pavone is a viola and violin player known mostly for collaborative projects with Anthony Braxton, Mary Halvorson, Matthew Welch, and Matana Roberts. Thus her solo work doesn’t come as a a total unknown to me.
On Army of Strangers, Jessica and her lineup deliver entirely instrumental, experimental, avant-garde compositions. Jessica is very eclectic and she creates a marvelous juxtaposition with her violin and viola. The advantage of this quartet setting is that even if this album is put under the name of a musician, the overall feeling it gives is that of a perfect balance of instrumentation. Although Pavone plunders with her violin-viola work, the guitar of Pete Fitzpatrick and bass and drums of Jonti Siman and Harris Eisenstadt respectively, are in the same equalizing pattern.
Those who have listened to The Thirteenth Assembly, a collaboration of Pavone and Mary Halvorson would easily notice many similarities between this project and Army of Strangers, thus you may expect some similarities between that project and this one. The biggest difference would go to the actual genre label. While The Thirteenth Assembly relies more on jazz experimentation, on this solo offering Jessica shows a more avant-garde direction.
Army of Strangers shows the power of rock-based format, having tied that same power in a trio consisted of guitar, bass and drums. But, that’s where Jessica Pavone breaks your expectations and keeps things unpredictable
Starting from the very first tracks, Cast of Characters showcases the mellow nature of the of viola breaking into diverse changes that dwell between tamed noise and regular composition. Pavone’s duty is to provide melody and she does it through extensive chord changes and solos. The guitar work of Pete Fitzpatrick accompanies Pavone’s melodic work from time to time, but his guitar serves more as a rhythmic addition to the whole.
As the rest of the band sticks together through the album, Pavone’s periodical waving that fades in and out in the album’s rundown establishes a strong foreground for the other members. Though it might look quite inaccessible, this 40-minute trip appears as a well constructed passage, especially if your musical taste varies from straight jazz fusion to avant-garde. The heaviness in the album’s flow is reached with severe moments in Sink Hole, the acoustic direction is set in There Won’t Be Walking in the Daylight and “easiness” is present in the closer, Really?.
Jessica Pavone’s new brainchild is to be explored carefully, piece by piece and only in that way will you succeed in completing the puzzle called Army of Strangers. The album is a good starting point for all newcomers interested in learning about Pavone’s work, the other, more experienced listeners will embrace this album wholeheartedly.
01. Cast of Character
02. Tired Soul
03. April Is Over
04. Don’t Cross My Moon
05. Karmic Deservation
06. Sink Hole
07. Apparently, I’m Still Bleeding
08. There Won’t Be Walking in the Daylight
09. A Piece Has Been Released
* Jessica Pavone – viola, violin
* Pete Fitzpatrick – guitar
* Jonti Siman – bass
* Harris Eisenstadt – drums