The harmonium is not a native Indian instrument. It was conceived in Europe, but adopted by India in the 19th century, quickly becoming a traditional element in the region's folk, devotional and popular music. Myra Melford studied the instrument in India under a Fulbright Scholarship and, as she writes in the liner notes of this new album, she was "waiting to see what would emerge naturally (...) as opposed to trying to make something happen.
The Image of Your Body is the collaborative effort of Be Bread, Melford's group with Brandon Ross (electric guitar, banjo and voice), Cuong Vu (trumpet, electronics), Stomu Takeishi (electric and acoustic bass guitar, electronics) and Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums). Here is an album that tackles mysticism and romanticism with the sort of pronounced dogmatism that is flawed if it's not elastic; Melford would have benefited by bringing less tangled art and more lucid matter to the quartet's accomplished effort.
Certain tracks like "If You've Not Been Fed and "Fear Slips Behind are quaint little clusters of noise that come across as ominous and divine in nature. Ross' electric guitar does a splendid job of engulfing note after note and darting sonic spasms of the most random nature. "To the Roof is the longest track, lined with horizontal rhythms that do not lose momentum even though they make up an almost twelve-minute meditation. What the meditation is on is unclear and remains unclear for the duration of the album. The harmonium, however, brings a refreshing otherworldly dimension to the music and it serves as a surprising backdrop to every track's unraveling.
Melford is nothing if not audacious and her music is unflinching. Be Bread is a sonorous exercise in fusion, but it is layered in a way most fusion music isn't, with no cohesiveness or even artful dissymmetry to speak of. The tracks are strung together like styrofoam-like bits that are soft without being mellifluous and bold without being whimsical. Still, the holistic experience leaves you drained and not that enlightened. It seems as if though the album was purely an exercise in learned mysticism and its potential for clarity was overestimated. The album's title comes from a poem by 13th century Persian poet Jalalud'din Rumi and describes the album in more ways than one. Rumi pronounces with characteristic frankness, "You're still restless . He's got a point.
Equal Grace; Luck Shifts; Fear Slips Behind; To the Roof; Yellow Are the Crowds of Flowers II, The Image of Your Body; Be Bread; If You've Not Been Fed; Your Face Arrives in the Redbud Trees; Made it Out.
Myra Melford: piano, harmonium; Brandon Ross: electric guitar, banjo, voice; Cuong Vu: trumpet, electronics; Stomu Takeishi: electric and acoustic bass guitar, electronics; Elliot Humberto Kavee: drums.
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