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Myra Melford's Language of Dreams at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Harry S. Pariser By

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Myra Melford's Snowy Egret
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco, CA
November 8, 2013

Within the intimate confines of the YBCA Forum in the heart of San Francisco's museum district, a gray, out- of-focus video screened a country road. On one platform set directly under the screen, piano, drums, two chairs and two stools were set up in a row, awaiting the arrival of the musicians. A stage directly below held a large, semi-opaque plastic tarpaulin. The evening would unfold the premiere of pianist Myra Melford's fledgling multimedia effort, Language of Dreams . It also marked the premiere of JAZZ@YBCA, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' jazz series.

The members of Snowy Egret took the stage as avant-garde Japanese-immigrant dancer Oguri took the lower stage, ensconcing himself prone under the enormous, crumpled plastic sheet.

Myra Melford reached over on her piano to pluck strings as a fuzzy video played. Over on the right, narrator Sofie Rei began narrating from the first of a long series of excerpts from the poems of Eduardo Galleano, reciting them in English and then Spanish. Bassist Stomu Takeishi, known for his work with Henry Threadgill among others, plucked his guitar-shaped acoustic bass as guitarist Liberty Ellman spoke through his deftly fingered electric guitar. Ron Miles then fingered his cornet and punctuated the mix with the instrument's special sound. Drummer Jeff Davis laid down a steady, forthright beat. Oguri balled himself up and, eventually, after moving snail-like under the sheeting, emerged from his chrysalis, folded up his sheet and, taking it in hand, exited the stage only to re-enter and leave several times during the performance.

A fascination with Mexico's Huichol Indians, the poetry of Eduardo Galleano, the avant-garde compositions of mentors Henry Threadgill and Don Pullen, and other factors, encounters and influences melded together in this production, the first of its kind to be held in San Francisco. Melford first wrote the music, then, "in a mysterious way," combined hundreds of excerpts from Galleano's famous Memory of Fire trilogy "in an organic way" to form the work, which resembled the bard's prose-poems in that she combined 15 pieces, each of which ran between three to eight minutes.

The rest of the production proceeded in a similar fashion with video, musicians and dancers all intertwined in a deft interchange. Found and creative commons footage, hand selected and digitally processed by video artist and lighting designer David Szlasa accompanied the rest of the performers. Abstractly filmed footage of marauding cattle, snowy, lofty mountain peaks and other scenes, all digitally altered, filled the twin extra-wide screens.

From a creation myth ("The Promised Land") to the story about the Iriquois which followed, to street cries for watermelon, bread, coconut candies and tamales (expertly rendered by Ms. Rei), Galleano's poetic voice gave an added layer of resonance to the compositions. The avant-garde music (Takeshi even using a crumpled plastic cup as a slide) succeeded at meshing with the movements of Oguri and the dreamlike projected-video presentation to varying degrees. Myra also played samples and held forth on the melodica. It was quite an ambitious effort, and, as with all such multi- discipline productions exhibited both strengths and weaknesses at times, but the music stood on its own, as it doubtless will when the CD is recorded. The good news for those who could not attend is that a DVD is also planned and will be released at a future date.

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