Myra Melford, Zeena Parkins and Miya Masaoka: MZM

Troy Dostert By

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Three world-class musicians whose long paths had yet to intersect, pianist Myra Melford, electronics wizard Zeena Parkins and kotoist Miya Masaoka finally team up for MZM. It's a potent, concentrated set of fully-improvised pieces that highlight the trio's ability to craft something wholly new while retaining each of their unique musical personalities.

The album was first released by Infrequent Seams in 2017, but it's getting a reboot here. Most of the ten tracks range from three to six minutes in length, allowing for a purposeful dialogue to emerge, develop and conclude without drifting into meandering digressions. And each has a distinctive character. "Red Spider" starts the album with all three players skittering about, pursuing independent strains that somehow take shape collectively. "Southern Owl" is more manic, with an energy sparked by Parkins's punchiest interjections, seeming to drive Melford and Masaoka into a much more percussive, rhythmic frenzy. But softer registers can also be found, from the ruminative "Spiral," led by Masaoka's spare restraint, to "Rosette," the album's closer, initiated by Melford's patient musings.

Part of what makes the improvisations so successful is their ability to merge the musicians' distinctive voices, while allowing their different aspects to emerge within the confines of each piece. Masaoka has a compelling introspective quality, especially present on a piece like "Spiral," which exemplifies her most idiomatic koto playing on the record; but she's equally riveting on "Taurus," where she eschews plucking in favor of sweeping swaths of sound that blend perfectly with Melford's prepared piano and Parkins's moody atmospheres. Melford's jaunty side can be found on "Eight-burst," with plenty of rhythmic figures bouncing here and there. But her contemplative voice is a steadying presence as well, particularly on "Rosette." And Parkins is consistently the wildcard, equally capable of jarring eruptions ("Ant"), carefully generated soundscapes ("Taurus"), and frenetic shards of guitar-like noise ("Eight-burst").

These three will undoubtedly carry on their numerous projects in myriad other contexts. But we can be grateful that they had the opportunity to come together for this particular encounter—one so sympathetic and creative.

Track Listing

Red Spider; Bug; Saturn; Eight-burst; Retina; Taurus; Southern Owl; Spiral; Ant; Rosette.


Myra Melford: piano; Zeena Parkins: electronics; Miya Masaoka: koto.

Album information

Title: MZM | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Infrequent Seams


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