Regardless of the project, pianist Myra Melford has always possessed a conversational style. As a member of Trio M, her bursts of keyboard chatter fit seamlessly with the drums and bass of Matt Wilson and Mark Dresser… two artists who also thrive in creating fluid motion from the raw material of crisp statements expressed in bursts of energy. This style also has suited her well in collaboration with clarinetist Ben Goldberg, both in live performance and also as part of her Be Bread ensemble (which also includes Matt Wilson)… Goldberg’s stylistic expressions match well with Melford’s quirkiness, and the odd melodic beauty they shape with rhythmic patterns that scurry and scrape across the landscape of a tune are terrifically engaging in that way improvised dialog can shatter expectations and inspire new ones.
And it’s especially important not to overlook her Trio and Extended Ensemble recordings for hatOLOGY, in which punches are thrown in bunches, the blues coexists peacefully with avant-garde expressionism, and stormy rhythmic fronts occasionally part clouds to make room for exquisite melodies to slip through. And at the other end of the spectrum, Melford’s duo recording with fellow-pianist Sakoko Fujii found gentle ways to create environments of chaotic discourse.
And these are just some of the highlights of a performing career that has contributed to projects that typically develop out of sight of the main thoroughfare and which possess an impressive array of original works. It’s why it’s so hard to believe that this is truly Melford’s first solo effort.
On Life Carries Me This Way, Melford pays tribute to her friend, artist Don Reich, who passed away in 2010, and whose work is the inspiration for the album’s songs. The personal nature of her connection to the source of the music’s inspiration, the association with existing creative works in the form of paintings, and the intrinsic challenges faced by any musician in a solo setting have resulted in a recording as beautiful as Melford must have intended it to be, and insightful to the listener to hear a facet of Melford’s music that hasn’t often come to light when she has other musicians in the room to converse with.
Your album personnel: Myra Melford (piano).
On Life Carries Me This Way, Melford doesn’t state the melodies so much as slowly exhale them, like plumes of smoke that mask their final shape until fully revealed. Though that’s not to say that Melford’s deft use of her instrument’s percussive qualities is abandoned. On “Park Mechanics,” Melford opens with a demeanor akin to the sunnier side of town, but grows increasingly agitated with flurries of notes. Not unlike many of her contributions to other projects, the melody is to be discovered in fractured glimpses seen between rhythmic lines. And on “Piano Music,” her quirky expressiveness assumes a fluid motion that behaves as a story told with an indescribable chronological order.
However, the heart of the album shows itself on melancholy tracks like “Red Beach” and “Red Land (for Don Reich).” Melford whispers the melody as if from across the room… bits and pieces are captured by the ear, and imagination fills in the rest. “Japanese Music” is offered up as missives, glittering, as tiny sparks of emotion, whereas “Curtain” is equally obtuse, yet exists at the opposite end of the spectrum, delivered in a deluge of notes in which a little bit of the melody is everywhere all at once. And then there is the quietly musing “Moonless Night,” which unfolds with an old soul patience.
Intriguingly, there are a couple tracks that adopt these two characteristics, yet end up sounding derived from neither. The quirky inclinations and declinations of “Attic Music” behave like a melody skipping across a landscape of rolling hills, and “Sagrada Familia” tumbles in tight circles, concerned with form through slight differentiations in the folds.
In many ways, the music of this album comes closest to resembling Melford’s duo collaboration with reedist Marty Ehrlich, an artist who very much fits in stylistically with aforementioned artists like Ben Goldberg and Matt Wilson, and who has a proven talent for eliciting the melodic sensibilities of those he collaborates with. A recording like Spark shares many of the qualities mentioned thus far, with its comforting tone even when expressing discomfited ideas, and its easy comportment when faced with plenty of space to fill and the immediate understanding of just the right amount of sound to enhance it.
The album ends with “Still Life,” perhaps the most song-like of all the album tracks. Aside from the allure of its elegance and abounding warmth, the presence of its easily traceable shape provides a sublime palpable finality to an album of strong undercurrents, sensed, but often indirectly.
A beautiful recording.
Released on the Firehouse 12 Records.
Jazz from the Berkeley, California scene.
The CD version includes photos of Reich originals.