Myra Melford/The Tent: Where the Two Worlds Touch (2004)
At its best music should transcend any technical evaluation; it should just be. All too often people (read: critics) assess the skill involved in creating a specific work, forgetting about whether or not it succeeds on purely a gut level. Pianist Myra Melford's latest project, The Tent, manages to rise above such pedestrian considerations, instead demanding that it be considered wholly on the basis of spiritual and emotional reaction. The question of what happens at the nexus point Where the Two Worlds Touch is answered at the most metaphysical of levels.
But what are the two worlds to which Melford refers? One possibility is the spiritual and the secular; another might be the intellectual and the physical; last might be the western world and points elsewhere. And what happens where these two worlds touch? Sometimes a confluence of ideas and other times sheer confusion. Melford's music contains elements of all these things.
From the abstract beauty of "Eight" to the urban sprawl of the title track, to the organized chaos of "Brainfire and Buglight," Melford and the ensemble look for the juncture. "Where the Ocean Misquotes the Sky" finds Melford on harmonium, in tandem with Chris Speed on clarinet, creating a lavish texture that leads into a rubato exploration of the place where east meets west as the piece develops into a slight funk feel.
Trumpeter Cuong Vu lends some otherworldly timbres through his extended techniques; bassist Stomu Takeishi continues to demonstrate that the electric bass, in the right hands, can be every bit as organic as an acoustic instrument. Kenny Wollesen manages to cover the territory between overt rhythm and sheer anarchy.
The album closes with "No News At All," which most clearly ties together the spiritual and the secular; the urban sprawl of western civilization and the chaotic marketplaces of the Middle East. Clearly there is a place where these two worlds touch; one need only look for it.
At the end of the day Where the Two Worlds Touch is not about any individual player's contributions; the album is, given the small size of the ensemble, remarkably orchestral in scope, with shifting rhythms, textures and musical shapes. As cerebral as it sometimes gets, it is an album to be experienced on the most visceral of levels. It requires abolishing preconceptions of how music should be and where it should go; it demands nothing short of full and complete attention; but the rewards are many for those who dare.
Track Listing: Eight; Where the Two Worlds Touch (for Andrew Hill); Brainfire and Buglight; Where the Ocean Misquotes the Sky; Secrets to Tell You; Everything Today; Hello Dreamers (for Lester Bowie); No News At All
Personnel: Myra Melford (piano, harmonium), Chris Speed (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Stomu Takeishi (electric and acoustic bass guitar), Cuong Vu (trumpet), Kenny Wollesen (drums)