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Monday, March 23, 2015

Myra Melford - Snowy Egret (Enja, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Sitting at a bar stool in a crammed West Village club during Winter Jazz Fest this year, I knew I had a dilemma on my hands after only the first few minutes of Myra Melford's appearance with her group Snowy Egret.  The trouble, I reckoned, would be that I would want to write about the group's upcoming release for the Free Jazz Blog, and while we have covered several other of Melford's projects through the years like the great Trio-M, this effort really seemed to have a strong compositional slant to it, as much as an improvisational one. I thought, maybe I should run it by the legal department or something first, but then on impulse, I decided to risk it all...

The group is impressive, and it was the their collective sound that besotted me right away. Melford of course is on piano; on guitar, Liberty Ellman; bass guitar, Stomu Takeishi; cornet, Ron Miles; and drums, Tyshawn Sorey. At this particular show, clarinetist Ben Goldberg subbed for Miles, but on record it's Miles' lyrical tone that helps round out the group’s edgy but restrained tone and energy.

Besides the group's well rounded sound, there is also a great deal of improvisation that flows seamlessly in and out of the written material. Ellman’s fretwork really shines on the recording, from the syncopated blast of energy of the opening track, to the gorgeous chordal solo on “Night of Sorrow”,  to the rock solid delivery on “First Protest” and beyond. Takeishi’s takes full advantage of the sound of his acoustic bass guitar, as opposed to the electric or upright bass, and he uses it to make the bass lines a real melodic presence. He fills in and around the spaces, for example, playing wonderfully off Melford’s bluesy references on tracks like “Night of Sorrow”. I have yet to encounter a recording - or show - where Sorey doesn’t impress in some way, and it’s no different here, his work on the kit throughout is never dominating and always spot on. Miles’ playing is a highlight on “Promise Land”, between the interplay with Melford during the track’s opening and his solo during the song, it is a treat.

As Melford explains in the liner notes, the music was initially inspired by author Eduardo Galeano's 'Memoria del fuego', a collection that mixes fiction and history to tell the story of the New World. From this, the music mixes in rhythms and textures evocative of the America's, while creating something else entirely. Snowy Egret is a really beautiful album - and though it somewhat expands the ‘free jazz’ definition of the blog, it would be a terrible shame not to rave about it a bit.

Here's a snippet of the band from a 2013 show ...

Snowy Egret is performing during Melford's residency this week at the Stone in NYC. They perform on Saturday, March 28th.