Myra Melford's Fire and Water Quintet SFJAZZ Center San Francisco, CA November 6, 2022
The Free jazz pianist and composer Myra Melford made the trip across the Bay Bridge to the SFJAZZ Joe Henderson Lab to bring her Fire and Water Quintet to an eagerly expectant audience. The quintet's name derives from the abstract artist Cy Twombly's "For the Love of Fire and Water retrospective at MOMA. The musicians are all creative forces in their own right, the most well-known of which is guitarist Mary Halvorson. Rounding out the quintet was Ingrid Laubrock on tenor and soprano saxophones, Tomeka Reid on cello, and percussionist-on-traps Lesley Mok.
Ms. Melford, a Composition and Improvisational Practices professor at UC Berkeley, is a bright-eyed hip pixie with an upbeat affect and has, over the years, ascended to creative music royalty. Her fingers fly across the keyboard as her diminutive form must often shift horizontally on the piano stool to cover the keyboard's range. Her compositions varied widely from what almost seemed like free-form jazz, like John Handy's eerie "Theme X," to a groovin' melodic piece reminiscent of Eddie Harris's "Freedom Jazz Dance." Her pianistic style would, at times, growl much like piano great of yore, Eddie Costa, or be a more "classical" study à la Lennie Tristano. Her improvisations sometimes jumped wildly around, much like in a Cecil Taylor solo or a Bartok Quartet. Her mentors were Don Pullenand Henry Threadgill. What a pantheon of talent.
Much of this complex listener-demanding music had to be written out in charts and was a testament to the musicians' collective skill. Melford's compositions were unnamed but rather were titled in Roman numerals and would sometimes begin with a Leitmotif. "I" began as a solo exploration, after which Laubrock entered, playfully bobbing and weaving in counterpoint. The band often broke into a duet or trio sections, each with a distinct character. The final compositionnot introducedcame to a dizzying climax-finale with all the musicians "blowing" simultaneously. What a treat!
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