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Myra Melford: Life Carries Me This Way

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Myra Melford's first solo disc, Life Carries Me This Way, is a musical exploration the paintings of California visual artist Don Reich. Rendering a painting—an art form that can be taken in at once, with one look—and addressing its moods, colors, shapes and textures over the course of a composition is not a easy task. Though in jazz, it's certainly not unheard of. The connection between abstract art and the improvisation-based music goes back at least to pianist Dave Brubeck's Time Out (Columbia Records, 1959), with its distinctive abstract cover art by painter Neil Fujita.

Recording and entire album based on the paintings of a single artist is also not unique. Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom released, in 2004, her excellent tribute to Jackson Pollack, Chasing Paint (Arabesque Records); and drummer Matt Jorgensen offered up his finest recording to date with Tattooed By Passion (Origin Records, 2010), a nod to the paintings of Dale Chisman.

The album comes with a booklet that includes the paintings that inspired Melford's piano work. Reich had energy and flare in the rendering of his abstract still lifes, bold landscapes, and even some near cartoons. Inspiring visuals that Melford turned into music filled with a supremely confident spontaneity, from the turbulent angularity of "Park Mechanics" through the subdued ruminations of "Red Beach," to playful bursts and percussive ponderings on "Piano Music."

Melford is a rare original voice here—as she proved herself as well on her superb 2010 Trio M Recording (with bassist mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson) Guest House (Enja/Yellowbird Records). If she is unfettered, brimming with the unexpected in the trio format, she takes those strengths further playing solo. She is an artist who can probably be tagged a "Free Player," but she is also one who does not eschew beauty, of the unexpected kind, the type that sneaks up on you and jumps out from around the corner.

"Attic" the painting, is a beautiful, geometric, muted- color pastel; "Attic," the Myra Melford composition is a clipped, densely-layered, geometric examination of the mysteries inside the angles and shadows. "Barcelona," the painting, vertical mish-mash of long, compressed shapes (surreal buildings and street and alleys, perhaps), with a bit of blue sky peaking out from above. "Barcelona," the piano work explores those streets with a sense of discovery and wonder.

Life Carries Me this Way is an oddly gorgeous and uncompromising music. Myra Melford does solo piano with the best of them.

Track Listing: Park Mechanics; Red Beach; Red land (for Don Reich); Piano Music; Japanese Music; Attic; Curtain;Moonless Night; Barcelona; Sagrada Familia; Still Life.

Personnel: Myra Melford: piano.

Title: Life Carries Me This Way | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Firehouse 12 Records

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