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Mary Halvorson, 'Belladonna'

Mary Halvorson's first instrument was the violin. Given the way she swoops and pecks at her electric guitar, a craft honed over two decades, her first foray into string quartet composition, Belladonna, comes with a similarly determined and dramatic precision.

There are moments in the title track — from one of two companion albums out today including Amaryllis — that will sound familiar to anyone who's followed Halvorson's not-too-easily-confined career, namely a thick, hollowbody guitar tone and an effects pedal array that suddenly jumps like a humpback whale out of water. But it's the way that Halvorson's guitar hides in plain sight that excites, as she speedily tremolo picks alongside the Mivos Quartet's pizzicato strings or playfully echoes the cello's furtively struck notes. The piece itself is both beautiful and ravenous, perfectly named after the poisonous plant commonly known as deadly nightshade, blooming with danger.

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