A Few Words About “Code Girl”

MARY HALVORSON, Code Girl (Firehouse 12, 2018)

PERSONNEL: Mary Halvorson (guitar), Amirtha Kidambi (vocals), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Michael Formanek (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums)


  1. My Mind I Find in Time
  2. Possibility of Lighting
  3. Storm Cloud
  4. Pretty Mountain
  5. Off the Record
  6. In the Second Before
  7. Accurate Hit
  8. The Beast
  9. The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon
  10. Thunderhead
  11. And
  12. Deepest Similar
  13. Armory Beams
  14. Drop the Needle


There aren’t a ton of innovators in music, but Mary Halvorson is definitely one of them. Her guitar tone stands out remarkably while fitting in perfectly with her band, which is officially calling itself Code Girl. This group is playing accessible avant-garde jazz, which is not the easiest things to do. Anyone hoping for easy-going, post-bop jazz should probably look elsewhere. Those looking for a true musical adventure from a highly innovative band stretching jazz further into the 21st century, please step this way.

Halvorson wastes no time establishing the album’s tone with the opening track, “My Mind I Find in Time.” Her guitar pings, loops, and warbles in ways not readily associated with jazz. In fact, she seems to spend most of her musical time making her instrument do things it simply was not designed to do, particularly in this context. Her chord voices “thrum” away in low-key fashion, beautifully augmenting the mix without taking anything away from it. Her leads warp within, around, and throughout the songs. What seems atonal at times is actually contextually perfect. Simply put, Mary Halvorson is the Adrian Belew of jazz guitar.

Equally important are the trumpet of Ambrose Akinmusire and the lead vocal of Amirtha Kidambi. While Akinmusire uses his instrument to support Halvorson’s lines or step out beautifully on his own during solos, Akinmusire’s voice runs between demure and demented, depending on what the song calls for. The avant-garde nature of the melodies means anything goes, and everything comes together nicely, as long as the listener stays connected to the music. The most “jazz” element of this record comes from the rhythm section of Michael Formanek (bass) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums). Their sense  of groove is rock solid, but even they stray from the farm every now and then, albeit rarely for more than a few seconds.

This jazz is highly exploratory, and not for the musically faint of heart. But thoughtful attention and consideration rewards the listener with something from off the beaten path that shouldn’t — can’t, really — be relegated to the background. It seems highly unlikely Code Girl would try to repeat its studio efforts on stage, outside of a familiar sounding theme statement. This album can only be the first step into a larger musical world.


Mary Halvorson on Bandcamp

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 Want to have your album reviewed? Email me at cirdecsongs@gmail.com for consideration.

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