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Myra Melford – ‘For the Love of Fire and Water’

Myra Melford – For the Love of Fire and Water

(Rogue Art Rogart 0119. Album review by Jon Turney)

Pianist and composer Myra Melford’s name is up front but a glance at the personnel here suggests an ensemble of highly accomplished equals, and their recorded offering meets the expectation.

Past collaborations with each of them led to Melford bringing Ingrid Laubrock (saxophones) Tomeka Reid (cello), Susie Ibarra (drums and percussion) and Mary Halvorson (guitar) together for a live project in New York in 2019. Now, after the usual Covid hiatus, they resurface with a ten-part suite inspired partly by visual artist Cy Twombly. The pictures aren’t directly referenced: Melford cites his influence on a “gestural” approach to improvisation, but the varied musical offerings here are a sort of mainstream modern improv, if that makes sense. Free passages, usually with two or three of the players but here and there the full ensemble, are mixed with written figures, even occasional unison lines; carefree dissonance with regular tonality. Rhythm is mostly textural, although the low end of Melford’s piano holds down a more emphatic beat when she feels the need.

The free exchanges have a notably considered, and considerate quality – a courteous conversation that occasionally bursts into more heated cross-talk. Reid’s cello can be birdlike, or more richly flowing. The piano deals in flurries of notes in the higher register but more often offers more stately phrases in the bass. Ibarra’s beautifully tuned percussion is subtly braided into the weave and Halvorsen’s low-fi, crunch of dry leaves guitar sound provides another essential thread. Laubrock’s saxophone sound is rounder and she shares the leader’s skill in navigating adroitly between more conventionally calm waters and places where wilder waves break.

These are all strong players, much given to gleefully tangential excursions. That makes ensemble playing a delicate business: five people being tangential at the same time may generate an ugly tangle as well as spontaneous beauty. But the five ensure the latter predominates, all coming with the requisite quantities of skill, mutual sympathy, lightning reflexes and sensitive listening to keep things on the ever-enticing border between order and chaos.

It’s all thoroughly absorbing, and by the time you get to Part 10’s lyrical finale it’s clear this is a fine calling card for – alright, I’ll yield to temptation – a bit of a supergroup. Melford has plans to develop more music for this ensemble for future recording, and no doubt these pieces will also fructify in live performance. They are in the UK in a few weeks: a visit to look forward to.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol.   Twitter: @jonturney

Myra Melford’s Fire and Water quintet play Ronnie Scott’s on 1 May and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 2 May.

LINK: For the Love of Fire and Water at Rogue Art Records and all tour dates

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