Myra Melford-Marty Ehrlich: Yet Can Spring by Gerard Cox
Myra Melford and Marty Ehrlich are prominent musicians in a new school of the jazz avant-garde whose credo might speak something like this: "yeah, we're cool with playing out, but don't think that because of that we're not able to deal with and respect the jazz tradition, because the moment you do we'll turn around and surprise you."
Indeed, Melford and Ehrlich have both surprised thus far- in crafting brands of music that are not readily categorizable or lumped into any one genre of jazz. Melford's music is streamlined eclecticism of the most creative and thoughtful kind. While it takes essential cues from Gospel music and the percussive aesthetics of both Cecil Taylor and McCoy Tyner, she is careful not to leave tracks behind other than her own hybrid mark. Marty Ehrlich, on the other hand, has made a career of reconnecting with some of the sources in the music that are neither firmly "out" nor safely in, like that of his recent bandleader Andrew Hill.
It is fitting therefore that these two jazz omnivores might collaborate in a recording in which both of their diverse voices are featured as prominently as possible. This could be done no more prominently than in a duo setting, and that possibility is realized in this duo disc that was cut for the Arabesque label (AJ0154), a record in which they both shine individually and in interaction with one another.
"Yet Can Spring" is a record with an assemblage of mood feels, starting with the intense title-piece. The opener, a tune penned by Melford and featured on her record "Same River Twice" is the toughest tune on the disc, and it is clear how Ehrlich and Melford both dig in for the long haul here. Ehrlich blows long and with some gruff gestures at points, and Melford's solo on the track is a unique segway from simple percussive single note lines to a spiky chordal crescendo. "Here is Only One Moment" is the moment on this disc where there is the greatest amount of interaction, and more importantly, sympathy. Melford undergirds both Ehrlich's impassioned ascents and his downward turns to quiet in equally sensitive and constructed measure here. It is a finely constructed piece.
Ehrlich's "March Fantastique" is an angular piece that has echoes of one of his musical mentors- Andrew Hill. On that note, his reading of the tune's changes sounds rather Osbyesque but is played with more raw gusto than Greg Osby, another acolyte of Hill, I believe, would.
A number of the tunes here act as improvisational vehicles and aren't particularly distinctive taken on their own. They serve more the purpose of an incantation, and this is fine judging by the results of the ensuing improvisations.
The one wild card here is the closer- the Otis Spann blues "Don't You Know". It is also probably the least effective piece of the album, as they set a very high bar in covering a "real" blues piece but don't come very close to blues authenticity in playing it. The miking on Melford's piano which betrays a dark percussive sound as opposed to a decently bright, blues-ripe one, doesn't help in this respect.
That much aside, this record continues a fine tradition in the avant-garde of meeting a great horn figure with a powerful voice on the keyboard. Melford and Ehrlich have a genuine rapport and they both play in a dignified and contemplative regard vs. each other throughout here. Melford's unique gospel adaptations and Ehrlich's consistently emotive tone ensure each is able to assert their own voice in a clear way while still interacting to the full. Duo recordings in the avant-garde with piano and horn have been an important feature of the genre . David Murray's recordings with Dave Burrell and Dollar Brand come to mind, as do certainly Cecil Taylor's duet collaborations, and a case can be made for D.D. Jackson's recent duo records with avant-garde notables. Bearing in mind that these records are by no means common and that this is a fine record on its own terms, this record certainly deserves a mention in the same breath as these other duo records. I recommend it, and I commend Myra Melford and Marty Ehrlich for having the musical courage to do a duo record. It is an exposure of creative self that few dare.
Personnel: Myra Melford: piano Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet