Myra Melford — Snowy Egret Ξ An exemplary creative jazz pianist, composer, improviser, collaborator, and bandleader whose music spans the earthy and spiritual.
Ξ Ms. Melford's working quintet, which made its debut in 2012 with performances in New York and Los Angeles, performs original compositions written specifically for its line–up of Ron Miles (trumpet), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Stomu Takeishi (acoustic bass guitar) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). 2013 performances will include the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, The Bimhuis in Amsterdam and Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn, NY.
Ξ ...Berkeley pianist Myra Melford deserves the voluminous international esteem she receives. — Andrew Gilbert, Berkleyside
Born: January 5, 1957 in Evanston, IL
Location: Berkeley, CA
Album release: March 24, 2015
Record Label: Enja
01. Language 5:27
02. Night of Sorrow 6:44
03. Promised Land 5:44
04. Ching Ching / For Love of Fruit 5:32
05. The Kitchen 6:55
06. Times of Sleep and Fate 5:50
07. Little Pockets / Everyone Pays Taxes 4:33
08. First Protest 5:29
09. The Virgin of Guadalupe 8:34
10. The Strawberry 5:36
Ξ Myra Melford: piano, melodica
Ξ Ron Miles: cornet
Ξ Liberty Ellman: guitar
Ξ Stomu Takeishi: bass guitar
Ξ Tyshawn Sorey: drums © Ξ Stomu Takeishi: bass guitar / Foto Thomas Huisman
Ξ Gil Corre Cover Photo, Photography
Ξ Liberty Ellman Guitar
Ξ Franziska Erdle Artwork
Ξ Tom Lazarus Engineer, Mixing
Ξ Myra Melford Composer, Liner Notes, Melodica, Piano
Ξ Ron Miles Cornet
Ξ Tyshawn Sorey Drums
Ξ Christoph Stickel Mastering
Ξ Stomu Takeishi Guitar (Bass)
Ξ Hans Wendl Producer
Ξ Michael Wilson Photography
Review by Dave Lynch; Score: ****½
Ξ Since the mid–'90s, pianist/composer Myra Melford's quintets such as the Extended Ensemble, the Same River, Twice, the Tent, and Be Bread have been among her most adventurous and inimitable groupings — and so one greets the arrival of her latest five–piece, Snowy Egret, with high anticipation. Released by Enja/Yellowbird in March 2015, Snowy Egret's eponymous debut album features Melford compositions inspired by Uruguayan author, historian, and journalist Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy; the quintet performed the music in November 2013 at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as part of Melford's multimedia Language of Dreams project, which also included dance, video, and spoken word. Although the hourlong Snowy Egret is divorced from the visual and spoken elements of Language of Dreams, it stands strongly as a purely musical experience, with the pianist joined by her self–described "killer band" featuring cornetist Ron Miles, guitarist Liberty Ellman, longtime Melford collaborator bassist Stomu Takeishi, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Ξ The perpetually exploratory Melford is always crossing and blurring boundaries — stylistic, cultural, geographic — and never more so than on Snowy Egret, which, despite the music's South American literary inspiration, expands far beyond the expectations of "Latin jazz" to encompass the full range of her creative jazz sensibilities.
Ξ Before evolving into a strong feature for the leader's soulfully exploratory pianistics, the pensive "Night of Sorrow" does find Ellman's introductory passage imbued with a Latin feel, but elsewhere the music often speaks of the universality inherent in Galeano's prose. And Galeano's words inspire plenty of roiling energy, with Sorey a forceful engine of the band's momentum, powering through the thematic angularities of the opening "Language" while supporting Ellman and Miles features with no shortage of precisely executed accents and dynamic nuance. Sorey rolls with abandon through the jagged stops and starts of "The Kitchen," which includes a standout performance from Melford, bold and muscular in the lower register and unbridled as she takes her solo higher with inexorable force. Miles might be heard as the "soloist" in the sublime full–group improvisation of "Promised Land," but his mastery of space provides plenty of room for the other bandmembers to stand out in the mix, as Melford and Ellman stretch the underlying harmonics with their abrupt phrasing and Takeishi flirts with funk. In an echo of Ellman's mood–setting intro to "Night of Sorrow," Takeishi offers up a rumbling, harmonics–laden unaccompanied bass feature to commence "Times of Sleep and Fate," which builds from floating, contemplative ambience into a calm but uneasy resolution. After the collective tumult and abrupt finish of "First Protest," the appropriately Latin–tinged "The Virgin of Guadalupe" smoothly and effortlessly rises from balladic loveliness into freer jazz expression while never losing its thread. And the album ends on a rollicking note as Melford brings the blues to the celebratory Latin groove of closer "The Strawberry." Snowy Egret stands equal to any of Myra Melford's quintet recordings of the past two decades — and that's high praise indeed. Ξ http://www.allmusic.com/
Ξ Myra Melford's piano playing sparkles like the blues, enchants like eastern music and illicits wonder like the great classical works. This unique blend is also present in her compositions, which arouse both emotion and the intellect. Galeano's 'Memoria del fuego' is a collage of fiction, travelogue, newspaper articles and letters, with which he creates his own Latin America. He re–writes and polishes up alternative creation myths. 'Snowy Egret' is a musical evocation of myths about the American continent. Ξ Duos, solos and counterpoint emphasize isolation, but simultaneously argue for an alternative way of life, in a community with shared values. Just like musical chords. As a musical extension of previous ensembles, 'Snowy Egret' polishes the mystique of Galeano's dream language to a high musical gloss. Re–imagined? For Melford this means multimedia, with butoh and video mixing, text declamation and graphic musical notation. Melford's music blends classical with blues piano, North–Indian harmonium, Frank Lloyd Wright's organic architecture, James Joyce, the paintings of Don Reich, Zen Buddhism and Rumi poems. Liberally drawing on a range of inspirational sources, her music keeps the listener on the edge of his seat.
Upcoming shows for Snowy Egret:
Ξ August 23, 2015 New Haven, USA
Ξ October 12, 2015 Kuumbwa, Santa Cruz, USA
Ξ October 13, 2015 Freight and Salvage, Berkeley, CA, USA
Ξ October 14, 2015 Redwood Jazz Alliance, Arcata, CA, USA
Ξ October 16, 2015 Outpost, Albequerque, NM, USA
Ξ October 17, 2015 Jazz Bakery (Venue TBD), Los Angeles, CA, USA
Ξ October 18, 2015 Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle, WA, USA
Ξ October 23, 2015 Warsaw Jazz Festival, Warsaw, Poland
Ξ October 25, 2015 Cormons, Italy
Ξ For pianist, composer and Guggenheim fellow Myra Melford, the personal and the poetic have always been intimately and deeply connected. Raised outside Chicago in a house designed by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Melford grew up literally surrounded by art. Where most of us find the beauty in our childhood homes through the memories and associations we make within its four walls, Melford saw early on that aesthetic expression could both be built from and be a structure for profound emotions.
Ξ Over the course of a career spanning more than two decades, Melford has taken that lesson to heart, crafting a singular sound world that harmonizes the intricate and the expressive, the meditative and the assertive, the cerebral and the playful. Drawing inspiration from a vast spectrum of cultural and spiritual traditions and artistic disciplines, she has found a “spark of recognition” in sources as diverse as the writings of the 13th–century Persian poet Rumi and the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano; the wisdom of Zen Buddhism and the Huichol Indians of Mexico; and the music of mentors like Jaki Byard, Don Pullen, and Henry Threadgill.
Ξ The latest incarnation of this ever–evolving cross–disciplinary dialogue is Language of Dreams, which will premiere in November 2013 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The multi–media work is inspired by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy, a history of the Americas told through indigenous myths and the accounts of European colonizers. The piece will combine music for Melford’s quintet Snowy Egret with narration by a multi–lingual actor, dance by Los Angeles–based choreographer Oguri, and video by Bay Area filmmaker David Szlasa.
Ξ While Language of Dreams is her most ambitious project to date, it is not the first time that Melford has constructed a piece from such a wealth of disciplines. In 2006, the Walker Arts Center premiered Knock on the Sky, a piece inspired by Albert Camus’ essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” and Kobo Abe’s novel Woman in the Dunes, in which Melford collaborated with New York City–based choreographer/dancer Dawn Akemi Saito and Austrian architect Michael Haberz.
Ξ Snowy Egret, Melford’s latest working group, made its debut in 2012. The quintet comprises some of creative music’s most inventive and individual voices: trumpeter Ron Miles, guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Stomu Takeishi, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Melford’s spacious, contemplative, exploratory compositions have long attracted and almost demanded such forward–thinking artists. Her past ensembles have included Be Bread, with Cuong Vu, Ben Goldberg, Brandon Ross, Stomu Takeishi, and Matt Wilson; The Same River, Twice, with Dave Douglas, Chris Speed, Erik Friedlander, and Michael Sarin; Crush, with Takeishi, Vu, and Kenny Wolleson.
Ξ Melford also currently is one–third of the collective Trio M with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson; their most recent CD, The Guest House, was one of 2012’s most acclaimed releases. She also performs in the duo ::Dialogue:: with clarinetist Ben Goldberg and will release her first solo album in October 2013, a collection of work inspired by the paintings of the late visual artist Don Reich.
Ξ Melford’s musical evolution has long run in parallel with her spiritual search, a personal journey that has led her to Aikido, Siddha Yoga, and the wisdom traditions of the Huichol people of Mexico’s central highlands. Sonically, that quest is expressed via her wide–ranging palette, which expands from the piano to the harmonium and electronic keyboards or to amplifying barely audible sounds in the piano’s interior. Her playing can build from the blissful and lyrical to the intense and angular, with accents from Indian, African, Cuban and Middle Eastern musics or the cerebral abstraction of European and American jazz and classical experimentalism.
Ξ While Melford’s music continually reaches toward a state of transcendence, it still remains deeply rooted in the blues traditions she heard growing up in the Chicago area. In 1978, she first encountered violinist Leroy Jenkins, her introduction to the AACM, whose boundary–free, adventurous approach to jazz remains an influence. She would go on to study with Jenkins, together forming the collective trio Equal Interest with multi–reedist Joseph Jarman in 1997.
Ξ Melford moved to the east coast in 1982 and began performing in New York City’s thriving Downtown scene, making her recorded debut as a leader in 1990; she has since released more than twenty albums as a leader or co–leader and appeared on more than 40 releases as a side–person. In 2000, she spent a year in North India on a Fulbright scholarship, immersing herself in the region’s classical, devotional, and folk music. Melford relocated to the west coast in 2004, joining the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley as an associate professor of contemporary improvised music. There, she engages students in the theory and practice of improvisation, employing diverse creative strategies.
Ξ Her work has earned Melford some of the highest accolades in her field. In 2013 alone, she was named a Guggenheim Fellow and received the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Performing Artist Award and a Doris Duke Residency to Build Demand for the Arts for her efforts to re–imagine the jazz program at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She was also the winner of the 2012 Alpert Award in the Arts for Music. She has been honored numerous times in DownBeat’s Critics Poll since 1991 and was nominated by the Jazz Journalists Association as Pianist of the Year in 2008 and 2009 and Composer of the Year in 2004.
© MYRA MELFORD 2015
Ξ Hans Wendl for Trio M; (Amy Cervini/Orange Grove Artists — (US and Canada), Saudades Tourneen — (Europe)
Tycho — Weather
Khruangbin — Hasta El Cielo
Joe Walsh — Songs For A Dying Planet
Peter Cat Recording Co.
Tigercats — Pig City
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