Melford’s Snowy Egret – The Other Side of Air [TrackList follows] – Firehouse 12, FH12-04-01-029 64:02 [11/2/18] ****:

There are reasons why the 64-minute, 10-track The Other Side of Air—the latest from pianist Myra Melford and her Snowy Egret quintet—quickly made top-10 jazz lists at the end of 2018. Partial responsibility goes to the highly-talented band who have also carved out top-notch tiers as solo artists: cornetist Ron Miles (who has about a dozen projects as leader and recorded six others in partnership with guitarist Bill Frisell); guitarist Liberty Ellman (close to a dozen ventures as leader, and has been a sideman to pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Henry Threadgill and others); bassist Stomu Takeishi (who has also worked with Threadgill as well as trumpeter Cuong Vu) and drummer Tyshawn Sorey (several acclaimed solo albums; his credits include Anthony Braxton, saxophonist Steve Coleman, Iyer, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and many more). Another reason The Other Side of Air has been favorably received is Melford’s deeply interactive and artistically-escalated material. This is music which is demanding but also magnetic, intricate but also approachable. Melford states, “I really feel like it’s the vehicle that expresses where I am as a composer, performer and bandleader right now.” The Other Side of Air was issued as180-gram vinyl in a gatefold jacket with printed inner sleeves; as a four-panel Digipack CD; and as various digital download files. This review refers to the CD version.

Melford’s compositions—which range from three minutes to ten minutes—showcase her penetrating inquisitiveness, individual vision and enthusiasm for influences inside and outside music. Visual creativity inspired some tunes. The almost seven-minute opener, “Motion Stop Frame,” is a reaction to the hand-drawn animation of South African artist William Kentridge. “Motion Stop Frame” has an off-keel rhythm, a complex but unified counterpoint and instances of free-flowing improvisation. Kentridge’s animations often have a palimpsest-like quality and “Motion Stop Frame” shares a sense of parts being layered on parts until a new and fresh realization is enacted. The title track is split between two separate segments called “Other Side of Air” and “Other Side of Air II” and were also stimulated by Kentridge. The shorter first cut is a slowly developing and emotional piece where Miles’ cornet vibrates and echoes in the stratosphere while Melford contributes lingering notes and Ellman and Takeishi provide tense interplay. The nearly nine-minute “Other Side of Air II” balances uneasy bits with melodically enticing slices, demonstrating how Snowy Egret can hold steady when appropriate and can let loose when needed. The longest track, the ten-minute “Living Music,” got its title during Melford’s research into Kentridge. Melford’s multifaceted, mini-masterwork was initially penned for a previous Melford group. There’s much pivoting and twisting curves in this diverse composition which features a dimly-lit main theme and memorable soloing from Ellman and Miles.

Portrait Myra Melford Snowy Egret

Myra Melford Snowy Egret

Two pieces were formulated because of artwork by LA-based painter and animation expert Don Reich. The almost nine-minute “City of Illusion” (probably named after the Hollywood film industry) is a mostly through-composed work which starts out in an enigmatic mode and gradually shifts as solo statements enter and leave. “City of Illusion” does not have a simple structure: this is thinking music which requires a clear head and definite, close listening. The knotty, 9:26 “Attic” was also fashioned as a commentary of sorts to a Reich drawing. “Attic” began as a solo piano conception but evolved into a tumultuous quintet offering where melody, harmony and unity are generally thrown around like musical confetti: the patterns may be present, but they might not be concretely visible. Iconoclastic artist Cy Twombly was a stimulus for the nearly five-minute, deconstructionist “Dried Print on Cardboard,” where an adroit melody is snipped apart and recast: highlights include systematic interactions between Takeishi’s electric bass, Ellman’s plucked guitar and Melford’s edgy piano.

Melford concludes with the gorgeous “Turn & Coda,” which begins with unaccompanied piano before the other quintet members glide in and gently push along the lyrically appeasing arrangement. Melford mentions that for this quintet, “There’s a lot of trust, and there’s a lot of willingness to let go of what was supposed to happen and go with what is happening in the moment.” There are many jazz releases which comprise in-the-moment as well as composed music but few which approach it with the kind of impressive perspicuity found on The Other Side of Air.

Ron Miles – cornet; Liberty Ellman – guitar; Stomu Takeishi – bass guitar; Tyshawn Sorey – drums; Myra Melford – piano

TrackList:
Motion Stop Frame
City of Illusion
Attic
Chorale
Small Thoughts
Other Side of Air
Other Side of Air II
Living Music
Dried Print on Cardboard
Turn & Coda

—Doug Simpson

More information and track samples at Firehouse 12 Website:

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