Jessica Pavone has long been a key player in the realm of classical music, though the talented New Yorker has largely done so as an accompanying member of someone else’s ensemble. Slowly and with mounting confidence she paid her proverbial dues and embarked upon her solo career with 27 Epigrams, a lilting and busy collection of violin and viola compositions that cemented her place in the small niche of avant-garde classical. Now Pavone, with the help of the Toomai String Quintet, has crafted something sullenly beautiful, jarring and ominous in its minimalism.
Comprised of 11 well-measured pieces, Songs of Synastry and Solitude sends the listener on a journey through a wintry landscape that is as desolate as the title suggests. That’s the easy part, but what takes a bit more time and patience to discover is that the synastry, which is to say the astrological compatibility between two people, is a subdued narrative that runs beneath, or perhaps within, each song. With very subtle additional assistance Pavone’s album is as deeply personal and idiosyncratic as a series of journal entries. The exterior presentation might show an unyielding mask of introversion, but an examination of the intimate interior offers something much more profound.
The first song, “Here and Now, Then and Gone”, embodies this mirror-into-the-soul kind of assessment, and is the closest thing to an uplifting moment for the album’s duration. Its plodding transition from somewhat jaunty to definitively morose happens quickly and without warning, like entropy itself. “Darling Options” also dabbles in a kind of guarded optimism, but more powerful is its vaguely sinister undercurrent. “There’s No Way to Say” perfectly captures the speechlessness that can come with trepidation, contorting an anxious, tentative, and wordless scene into a musical pantomime of awkward discussions. “Houswork” continues this trend of unhappiness, exploring the dynamic of feminine housewife and masculine breadwinner.
“It Comes To This”, woeful and reluctant, makes it easy to imagine the bittersweet departure of the housewife from the quotidian thanklessness of her station. It isn’t easy, of course, as it gambles relatively familiar comfort, even that which is received through subjugation, for a chance at freedom. Fittingly, “The Harbinger” marks the portent of something disastrous, something unimaginable, and the album concludes with the frightful revelation that “Hope Dawson is Missing”. Naturally, this is just my interpretation of Songs of Synastry and Solitude and shouldn’t be taken as the actual intent of Jessica Pavone, though I suspect there is something similar or parallel afoot here.
This openness of arrangement is what makes the album so refreshing and fantastic. Each song is an invitation, and each title a linguistic starting point, for the listener to construct their own story via the transference of individual experience. This is the audiovisual and imaginative potential of music without words, a fact that Jessica Pavone and the Toomai String Quintet take full advantage of. Gloomy and forceful, Songs of Synastry and Solitude is as much about the space between the notes as it is the notes themselves, and as much about Pavone’s own story as it is yours.