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Jessica Pavone - Songs of Synastry and Solitude

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Artist: Jessica Pavone

Album: Songs of Synastry and Solitude

Label: Tzadik

Review date: Oct. 28, 2009

Jessica Pavone has spent much of the past decade performing the compositions of others, including William Parker, Anthony Braxton and Taylor Ho Bynum, so it’s only fair that here, the tables are turned. Songs of Synastry and Solitude features 11 new Pavone compositions performed by the Toomai String Quintet. Her pieces have been featured on numerous releases over the years, but releases bearing Pavone’s name as their sole leader aren’t as frequent as one might think, especially outside of her own Peacock Recordings label. Songs of Synastry and Solitude seems rather straightforward when compared to other work of Pavone’s, but there’s a beauty in the music’s stark simplicity.

Pavone claims a wide range of influences on Songs of Synastry and Solitude, from the Leonard Cohen album Songs of Love and Hate (from which Pavone cribbed this disc’s name), to American folk, gospel and soul music. She maintains that the album contains “songs,” and this isn’t an empty intellectual conceit. Pavone flavors her writing with ingredients not often found in the classical world. Her inclusion of forms outside the bounds of typical string quartet fare isn’t done with a heavy hand and this isn’t a disc of genre-jumping or mash-up novelty. Instead, Pavone composes with subtle flair that allows the music’s inventiveness to retain an ineffable quality.

Songs of Synastry and Solitude is full of lyrical beauty and lush melodicism , but it’s smart and spare, composed with an economy that never veers into anything saccharine. Its innovation is, at times, felt more that heard, likely due to the fact that her use of gospel music, for instance, is in a borrowing of forms rather than particular sounds.

Unlike much of the Tzadik catalog, Songs of Synastry and Solitude isn’t particularly difficult or challenging music. Performed with aplomb, these songs, no matter their tips of the hat, sound clean and fresh, imbued with an unobtrusive slice of personality. It’s further evidence (though, by now, hardly needed) that Jessica Pavone is a vital force in New York’s music community, capable and competent of playing way out in left field, or keeping things much closer to home. What Songs of Synastry and Solitude lacks in bracing originality is compensated for, more than adequately, by the clarity and confidence of Pavone’s songwriting.

By Adam Strohm

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