Jessica Pavone
Photo: Yuan Liu / Courtesy of Ramp Global

Jessica Pavone Expands Her Canvas on ‘Lull’

This four-movement work stretches long-playing drones to tantric levels as Jessica Pavone searches for that finicky connection between music and emotion.

Jessica Pavone
Chaikin Records
22 October 2021

Lull is violist/composer Jessica Pavone’s first octet, and she treats it as the special occasion that it is. This four-movement work stretches long-playing drones to tantric levels as Pavone carries on her search for that finicky connection between music and emotion. If you find that to be an overly subjective topic, then that is just half the fun here. The octet features Aimeé Niemann and Charlotte Munn-Wood on violin, Pavone and Abby Swidler on viola, Christopher Hoffman and Meaghan Burke on cello, and Shayna Dulberger and Nicholas Jozwiak on double bass. Trumpeter Nate Wooley and Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase are featured as guest soloists on two movements.

The music of Lull wasn’t so much composed as it was loosely conceptualized by Pavone and her musicians — a piece of “indeterminate music” that takes on the form of “structured improvisation”. So while containing elements of classical and jazz, two styles in Pavone’s background, Lull comes out sounding like neither. In fact, it’s no less strange or unique than its Bandcamp description would lead you to believe.

The four movements of Lull stretch over the course of 45 minutes, with a four-minute excerpt of the first movement, tacked on at the end. The opener “Indolent” wastes no time in reaching for dissonance, though not the ugly kind for which you may be bracing yourself. As the intermittent stops and starts sort themselves out, the music heats up as all members rapidly bow over a series of chords that are too ominous to be completely spontaneous. “Indolent” then lets itself flatten out in harmonies that are downright pastoral compared to what came before.

“Holt” begins immediately with one of Chase’s tuned drums, tapping out a mysterious pattern devoid of any pulse. The string accompaniment goes from confused pizzicato to a storm of seesawing spikes and feverish bowing as Chase turns up the intensity. “Holt” then falls deathly quiet as the strings simmer, and Chase somehow manipulates the cymbals he is striking (possibly with his hands?). Just as Chase is wrestling with his percussion more and more, Wooley enters the picture with breathy hiccups and staccato bursts.

That paves the way for “Ingot”, a movement Wooley begins with one long note for the octet to cozy around it with a thick, foggy chord. As “Ingot” floats along, it becomes clearer that Wooley is only a soloist in the abstract sense of the word. The integration of his horn into the octet is so thorough that he might as well be another string with a bow sustaining him (circular breathing has to be at work by this point). The concluding movement, “Midmost”, begins with a terrifying low end but ascends skyward as the eight players coalesce into a vanishing point. The leisurely-paced sound blocks help guide the piece to a singular, unison conclusion as if two violins were vying for the last word simultaneously. The fifth track picks up roughly around the halfway point of “Indolent” when the rapid bowing brought the movement out of its wandering introduction.

All told, Lull isn’t as radical a piece as it may seem in writing. The broad patterns at work disqualify it as a work of minimalism, but the stark arrangements and lengthy passages don’t precisely define it as anything exclusively not minimal. The best way to process Lull is as a new work. I do not make this point out of laziness or convenience, but to help you understand that this work manages to draw on several genres and techniques while committing to none of them. What happens when they coexist? Well, this is just one such way it can fall from the sky.

RATING 7 / 10