EQUAL INTEREST AT Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 18 November 1999
The anticipatory hush in the QE Hall was broken by the peeping of a mobile phone. Myra Melford turned from the piano and peered into the darkness. ‘If it’s for me, tell them I’m busy’. She wasn’t kidding. The trio launched into a Melford composition which moved forward through a series of solos, duos and group interplay. Melford's solo was a rolling, rhythmic, propulsive vision of stride for the next millennium. Leroy Jenkins and Joseph Jarman, veterans from Chicago’s AACM, were equal to the challenge, sublimating technique to ideas: Jarman extracting multiphonics from his alto and conjuring the illusion of playing two separate but simultaneous lines; while Jenkins allied his romanticism with sawing, scraping and bluesy cries, to take the piece out.
And so the set progressed with compositions from each player touching on the whole spectrum of 20th century musics. Jarman’s ‘Rondo for Ginny’, with Melford at the harmonium and the composer on flute, started with a pretty theme with oriental overtones before showcasing Jarman on the strident Vietnamese oboe contrasting with the folkish background laid down by the harmonium. Jenkins provided compositions which were by turns cerebral, with complex themes and lines in loose counterpoint, and jazzy with strong rhythmic motifs.
The first set concluded with an Armenian folksong: Jarman belting out time on tambourine, Melford laying down the dancing theme on harmonium, while Jenkins cavorted and embellished on violin. A crescendo of shaking on the tambourine signalled an increase in tempo for a rousing and joyful finale.
For the second set the trio was joined by a band of UK musicians for three pieces written specially for this tour. The playing of the larger group was very much an extension of the trio approach. Melford conducted the long multi-faceted opener, at first from the piano and then while shuffling across the stage cueing in different groupings, beating out the rhythm and bringing in the solos. Jenkins piece was more abstract with loosely phrased sections for the group, eventually winding down, with the violin scratching, plucking and bowing ,to silence. The final composition of the evening was a passage song by Jarman for his lifelong friend Lester Bowie. Chris Batchelor rose to the challenge of opening on solo trumpet for what was a flowing, elegiac, but ultimately life-affirming, celebration. Jarman and Jenkins played a melodic motif behind the solos from alto, trombone and ultimately cello. This last was one of the knockout moments with Nick Cooper’s bluesy cello sensitively accompanied by Chris Laurence’s bass, carefully choosing notes for maximum effect, while Melford strummed inside the body of the piano. A wonderful end to a fascinating evening packed with musical ideas.
The concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 for broadcast early next year.
Myra Melford - piano, harmonium Leroy Jenkins - violin, viola Joseph Jarman - alto sax, flute, bass flute, vietnamese oboe, tambourine Chris Batchelor - trumpet Steve Buckley - alto sax, bass clarinet Roland Bates - trombone Paul Clarvis - drums Chris Laurence - bass Nick Cooper - cello