Jessica Pavone’s new album is a close-range recording of her four-movement work Lull for string octet and soloists. Knowing only that Pavone is a violist and composer, I embarked unencumbered by preconceptions on a first listen to the work’s earnest, pulsing waves. The musicians are panned to create the effect of surrounding the listener and are mixed dryly, resulting in an intimate textural timbre reminiscent of the original recordings of Morton Feldman’s The Viola in My Life. Each player’s distinct voice gently cycles through rotating phases in the introductory rocking of the first movement, “Indolent.” In “Holt,” the liquid atmosphere is riven by percussive clacks, wild overtones, and freestyle solos. “Ingot” heaves chords that shred and break like worried ropes hauling a ship onto land before settling into placid arrival. The gruff imitations of “Midmost” accelerate into a pop-worthy harmonic progression before exiting in imperfectly layered unisons—as inexplicably touching as the quaver of a children’s choir. The listener seems to be alongside the musicians in the moment of creation. A chair creaks. Air moves in and out of lungs. Wood, horse hair, and metal scrape and sing. Sound waves like ancient accordion respirations strike the eardrums in highs and lows, attacks and decays.
Lull is gritty and beautiful, live, and alive. The mood of the album is paradoxical: epic in scope, yet caught in the throat. Recorded in Brooklyn in 2020, Lull is performed by Aimée Niemann and Charlotte Munn-Wood (violin), Jessica Pavone and Abby Swidler (viola), Christopher Hoffman and Meaghan Burke (cello), and Shayna Dulberger and Nicholas Jozwiak (double bass), with solos by Brian Chase (percussion) and Nate Wooley (trumpet).