Myra Melford – Snowy Egret [TrackList follows] – Enja/Yellowbird

Myra Melford – Snowy Egret [TrackList follows] – Enja/Yellowbird YEB-7752, 60:19 [3/24/15] ****:

(Myra Melford – piano, melodica; Ron Miles – cornet; Liberty Ellman – electric guitar; Stomu Takeishi – acoustic bass guitar; Tyshawn Sorey – drums)

Pianist Myra Melford is more than a jazz musician. She’s a composer. She’s an instructor (currently Associate Professor of Contemporary Improvised Music, UC-Berkeley). She’s a band leader, fronting quintets such as the Extended Ensemble; the Same River, Twice; the Tent; and Be Bread. She’s also a student of music outside the domain of jazz (she’s studied North Indian music, among her pursuits). She’s an interpreter of literature. Which is the focus of Melford’s latest offering, Snowy Egret, which is also the name given to her newest quintet. This hour-long album is a ten-track suite inspired by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano’s trilogy, Memory of Fire (1982–1986), which combines journalism, political analysis and history. The material on Snowy Egret was first performed as a multi-disciplinary presentation in 2012 and again in 2013, which mixed jazz, dance, video art and vocals. For Melford’s release on the Enja/Yellowbird imprint, she pared her compositions into a purely instrumental jazz program, and went into a studio with cornetist Ron Miles; electric guitarist Liberty Ellman; acoustic bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.

The ten pieces have numerous flavors, including blues, African and Eastern elements, harmonic interplay, and more. Melford states, “My goal has always been to find a convincing or persuasive way to synthesize all the musics that are really meaningful to me in my own voice.” Melford has succeeded with her intentions throughout Snowy Egret. The record’s title was stimulated by Galeano’s words, as were the names of the separate tunes. Melford says Galeano’s “language is evocative. I also like the imagery that they suggest,” which explains why Melford’s music has a visual quality. The nearly seven-minute “Night of Sorrow” has a meditative, guitar/bass opening infused with a cinematic feel. One can nearly sense a dark flight from soldiers under a waning moon (Galeano fled from two Latin American countries in a similar way). During the gently agitating arrangement, there is a ruminative, poem-like characteristic accentuated by Melford’s keyboard lines, Sorey’s cymbals and Miles’ cornet. Miles is at the forefront of the percussively-tinted cut “Promised Land.” His single-note expertise, though, provides room for the other band members to add striking moments. Melford and Ellman, for example, deliver dynamic harmonic underpinning. Takeishi’s unpredictable bass movements during “Promised Land” also create surprising alterations. Many numbers contain uneasiness, where calmness is balanced against tension. The aptly designated “Times of Sleep and Fate” develops from poised introspection into a quiet but apprehensive resolve. During “Promised Land,” Ellman, Takeishi, Miles and Melford slowly escalate a perception of anxiety, but with no relief at the conclusion.

The fittingly Latin-shaded “The Virgin of Guadalupe” is the longest piece, and fluently ascends from ballad-esque beauty, heightened by Miles’ picturesque cornet lines, and progresses into an open-ended jazz countenance (not free jazz, but definitely modern), where Ellman takes the reins and Sorey plummets through roiling rhythmic concordances. Another outstanding item is “Ching Ching/For Love of Fruit,” where Melford switches to melodica, and shapes a distinctive kind of instinctive tango with Miles, while Takeishi and Sorey perform a twisting groove. The group finishes with the boisterous, blues-toned “The Strawberry,” which has a victorious sharpness marked by a Latin groove highlighted by Melford’s varied piano chords, which go from New Orleans boogie-woogie to something closer to Afro-Cuban. Sorey and Ellman also supply a South American coloring, while remaining contemporary and unique. Those interested in hearing a lengthier, more swinging rendering of “The Strawberry” can listen to an alternate version online. Melford’s compositions on Snowy Egret have an assured aura, sometimes contemplative and at other times somewhat dissonant. The quintet retains an aspect of many musical probabilities which are ready and willing to be tried. This is music which is never hampered by trying to stay in one place, but constantly moves, and yet is always held together by Melford’s precision and convergence.

TrackList: Language; Night of Sorrow; Promised Land; Ching Ching/For Love of Fruit; The Kitchen; Times of Sleep and Fate; Little Pockets/Everybody Pays Taxes; First Protest; The Virgin of Guadalupe; The Strawberry.

—Doug Simpson

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