Jessica Pavone’s compositions demand your attention. This isn’t intended as a threat: it’s an invitation to look beyond the normal parameters of music and the art of listening. Even within the worlds of modern classical composition, the New York-based musician continues to defy convention and smash boundaries by releasing music that focuses on unsettling but deliberate music. “My music is inspired by processes that center intuition and instinct,” Pavone explains in her artist statement. “Learning from sound healers and alternative healing practices to bolster my philosophical interests in the power of sound to illuminate hidden emotions.”
Pavone, who is also one-fourth of the innovative art-rock quartet JOBS and has contributed frequently with guitarist Mary Halvorson, among many others, has steadily released exciting, unique modern classical albums over the past several years. Brick and Mortar (2019) and Lost and Found (2020) were bold exercises in small-scale string ensemble work, while Lull (2021) expanded her palette to an octet, featuring two violas, two violins, two cellos, and two double basses. With …of Late, Pavone is back to a smaller configuration, featuring Aimee Niemann on violin, Abby Swidler alternating between violin and viola, and Pavone herself on viola (the trio is credited as the J. Pavone String Ensemble).
The album opens with the authoritative title track, as long, repetitious notes begin in short bursts but soon evolve into long, drawn-out ones. Eventually the trio’s instruments begin roughly working against each other, almost in the form of anti-harmony. Pavone has structured the ensemble to allow them to straddle the line between metered and time-based scores and improvised and notated instructions. This creates an odd form of discipline that also allows the musicians to be somewhat free in their execution.
“Done and Dusted” gives off a slightly looser feel, as the instruments’ glissandos allow for more sonic flexibility. On this track and many other parts of the album, the three instruments work together beautifully but are still separated enough to be heard individually. The piece avoids sonic clusters, and everyone’s contributions are crystal clear. With “Hidden Voices”, three musicians add their human voices, providing a haunting counterpoint to the existing instrumentation.
“The Pitches and Notated” avoids many of Pavone’s notoriously unconventional choices, sounding like melancholy (but still highly atonal) film score passages, although the ensemble members tend to veer off toward spiky irreverence towards the end of the track. It manages to segue rather seamlessly into the closing track, “Closeness Unnoticed”, which begins with some of the sustained notes of the previous track before going off the rails (in the best possible way). The instruments soon scramble into lightning-fast cacophony, followed by slightly measured chaos finishing the album.
“I channel all these ideas into compositions by focusing on how music feels when it’s played and heard,” Pavone explains. With all of her compositions and certainly including …of Late, Jessica Pavone consistently creates music that can be heard and deeply felt in the most immersive ways possible.