There is an episodic but very coherent quality to Melford’s compositions.
Kevin Le Gendre 2010-03-30
In the somewhat maddening world of jazz categorization, American pianist Myra Melford would be boxed as avant-garde, with all the expectations, misunderstandings and prejudice that trail behind. But while there is no doubt that her music, matured now over some three decades, has the marked dynamism, the capacity for dramatic narrative change, that perhaps best defines the aforesaid school, it is many other things besides.
There is a charmingly understated folk sensibility that pervades this set, as if the purring wistfulness of tango or gypsy swing had been absorbed into the pianist’s distinctive compositional voice without creating a ‘fusion’ per se. Delicacy is a word that is perhaps not associated enough with jazz, such is the lionisation of all that is hard, fast or loud, but Melford’s music shows that subtle, slow and muted need not necessarily be equated with music that is devoid of either interest of energy.
A very expressive band serves the leader well in this respect, with trumpeter Cuong Vu and clarinettist Ben Goldberg handling the majority of the twisting, spiralling themes while drummer Matt Wilson drives without overpowering. But it is perhaps the presence of the two string players in the ensemble that is the most intriguing: Brandon Ross, well known to Cassandra Wilson fans, plays a soprano guitar and Stomu Takeishi, a regular in the ensemble of Henry Threadgill, the man who used Ross, Wilson and Melford at early stages of their development, plays an acoustic bass guitar. Timbre wise, they are important, fashioning an array of slender, spindly sounds that make for vivid contrasts with the reeds and brass and also reinforce the leader’s generally fluid writing and arranging. Furthermore, Ross’s pinched, wiry tone achieves a melodica-like sensuality that resonates potently with Melford’s flinty bluesiness, a beautiful characteristic in her playing that loosely recalls the great Don Pullen.
There is an episodic but very coherent quality to the leader’s compositions that makes them soar and swoop into life as a bird in flight with the measured, at times discrete use of key changes or counterpoint increasing a very rich emotional backdrop.