Live reviews

Melford / Buckley / Batchelor / Edwards / Sanders at the Vortex Jazz Club

Myra Melford / Steve Buckley / Chris Batchelor / John Edwards / Sanders

(Vortex JAzz Club. 6 August 2022. Second show, Live Review by Alison Bentley)

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Myra Melford at the Vortex. Phone snap by Alison Bentley

NY pianist Myra Melford has been working with the UK’s Steve Buckley (alto sax) and Chris Batchelor (trumpet) since 1999, touring and later recording together in the award-winning Big Air. This gig added UK bassist John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders, to the delight of the full house.

No chatting to the audience or each other; no introductions- communication was entirely through the music. Melford’s sleeves were rolled up ready for action as she flexed her hands, a tiny figure in funky trainers at the Steinway grand. There was a huge, high energy free bass and drum backdrop to the opening theme: a skittish major Ornette Coleman-ish tune. Edwards and Sanders jostled Buckley’s Elton Dean-like vibrato in torrents of triplets. Piano and sax chased each other in buzzing chromatic runs; a flight of bumble bees. When everyone dropped out except piano, Melford’s Monk-ish harmony, countermelody and switchback runs were among the most exciting parts of the gig .

A new section was minor and melancholy with tingling cymbals; it was as if the drummer was conducting the drums, watching to see how they would respond. The bass solo was dramatic, Edwards’ hands blurring with speed. Batchelor and Buckley, who wrote most of the evening’s tunes, were especially well attuned to each other each other in a happy humorous theme rising out of rolling free drums. The three lead instruments picked up and joyfully investigated fragments of the tune. You sensed a Cecil Taylor influence in Melford’s solo, her wide hand span coaxing rhythms from the piano.

Then spiky piano triads drove an almost Caribbean groove, the stirring trumpet muted as everyone improvised together. How could the groove just keep building? Melford rocked her hands from side to side; soulful horn lines called to each other, a reminder of Buckley and Batchelor’s work in Loose Tubes. It was the audience’s first chance this set to show their appreciation, and they did.

A slow melody in a darker mode explored not so much arpeggios as pinnacles and troughs. The trumpet was emotive against the piano counter-melody. Buckley moved to flageolet with boppy precision; Melford leaned into the piano to pluck strings; Sanders moved to brushes with an African feel – the sounds all got smaller for a while. It felt as if Melford had been saving her energy and incredible technique for the next tune. She wrestled with the drums for a few minutes, in a solo that sounded wildly free but made complete sense. She chopped at the keyboard with wrists and arms as well as powerful fingers, all with a sense of calm. They ended with a joyful tune, as they flaked off phrases for improvisation and euphoric layers of sound.

“What I want to do is make music that allows people to have an uplifting experience,” Melford told one interviewer. There was a sense of something special happening.

LINKS: Vortex Jazz Club

Reviews of Fire and Water LIVE / ALBUM

Review of Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom with Myra Melford in Montreal

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