Jessica Pavone — coincidentally caught in action with loyal cohort Mary Halvorson from your reviewer only a few weeks prior to this report — is a prototypical hyperactive artist, having been implicated in situations as diverse as the mathematical complexities of Anthony Braxton’s work and the most down-to-earth improvisational contexts. The Brooklyn violist typically appears as “just herself” throughout these settings, her playing mixing clued-up imagination and naïve defenselessness in ever-encouraging deviations from the expectations of the commonly intended laws of “educated tones in erudite mannerism”. In this release, though, she’s exclusively a composer. The eleven-song cycle — magnificently executed by four members of Toomai String Quintet (Ami Weiss on violin, Erin Wight on viola, John Popham on cello and Andrew Roitstein on double bass) — is a pleasantly charming surprise, revealing several layers of concealed finesse over the course of repeated listens, absolutely necessary to dissipate the wrong impression that a superficial approach might generate on a first try. It is too easy — someone already did it, reviewing the record on a famous publication — to stick a label of excessive clarity (implying compositional effortlessness) on these diminutive gems, which respect the canons of a song while showing the significant constituents via hardly perceivable transparencies, adding to the sensual quality of the music. There are subtleties here that require finely tuned ears to be seized.
In Pavone’s writing paradox, appeal and nostalgia proceed hand in hand. Able to allure with reasonably simple themes, still putting our inner clock out of phase by placing a rhythmic hiccup in an otherwise regular ternary pulse (“Darling Options”), she seams slightly discordant bass lines to an elegiac passage, forcing the whole to wear the clothes of a stern chamber score (“The Harbinger”). In “There’s No Way To Say” a pinch of irony is added to the restrained romanticism that veils a deceptively complex contrapuntal tissue. One has to penetrate the music’s structure open-mindedly to appreciate its charismatic grace, digging out equal quantities of gratification both from unexpected resolutions and consonance, yet never bordering on trite disquisition. Toomai perform with light-handed authority, letting us literally taste their commitment to the task; the recording’s detailed brilliance does the rest, eliciting an aura of ancient times that enhances Songs Of Synastry And Solitude’s mysteriously seducing mood even more.