Monday, May 25, 2015

CD Review: Myra Melford - Snowy Egret

Myra Melford
Snowy Egret

Myra Melford took inspiration from the Persian poet Rumi in her previous quintet, Be Bread, using the words and subject matter to shape the music. Snowy Egret, made with an entirely different band, draws on another literary source, that of Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano and his Memory of Fire trilogy, which tells a history of the Americas through indigenous myths. Galeano's way of writing was idiosyncratic - with some chapters being only a paragraph long - was as much an inspiration as the text itself. As a result, pianist Melford has come up with another set of highly unique, intriguing material that rewards repeated listens.

Snowy Egret draws on melodic ideas that aren't merely sourced from jazz (free or grounded) nor do they attempt to fuse jazz with music that might be connected to Galeano's writing. Although the references to both of these elements can be felt in the pianist's writing, Ron Miles (cornet), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Stomu Takeishi (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) are equally responsible for what happens in the music.

At times the structure is more minimal, like "Language" which is built largely on one suspended chord.  The piano, guitar, bass and cornet play it together, sounding like an even more angular version of Monk's "Thelonious" riff, before switching to a B section that still involves parallel movement. Variations on the structure come during solos by Ellman and an especially warm passage by Miles.

"The Kitchen," by contrast goes through various permutations. After Sorey (one of the most melodic and rhythmically inventive drummers around) unleashes a tidal wave of tom thunder and snare rolls, the quintet plays a brief stop-start melody, interrupted by free statements by Miles and Ellman. They finally lock in on an off-centered bluesy vamp that allows Melford to pound chords and fire off rapid melody lines, pushing the group away from structure until the finally return home to the staccato theme.

Free excursions also happen in "Little Pockets/Everybody Pays Taxes," in which Takeishi holds things together while everyone around him goes wild. But Melford also writes with sensitive lyricism: "Times of Sleep and Fate" follows "The Kitchen" with a rubato melody brought to life by guitar, piano and muted cornet. "The Virgin of Guadalupe" also begins as a gently as a ballad, with the rhythm section gradually rising in the background behind Miles. The opening bars of album closer "The Strawberry" has gospel voicings in the piano, though it doesn't sound like Melford is trying to take us to church, as it switches to something a little more Latin based after less than 60 seconds.

Writing about Melford's albums tends to be a challenge. They often have so much happening that the risk is wanting to dissect every song or to try to offer a simple overview of the album. The latter never seems to get the ideas out directly. Suffice to say, mere words can't describe the depth of Snowy Egret. Find it and use your own ears make the decision.


Howard said...

Nice review -- yes, Myra's music is so full you either want to detail everything or try to get an overview -- each task is difficult, and without both perspectives, one misses her compositional point: That the detail and the complete structure work together in real time to create impressions bigger than any single analysis can account for. (Or something like that).

thganks for the writing, Shanley.

shanleymusic said...

Thanks, Howard. Much appreciated that you checked it out.