It's been too long since pianist Myra Melford's last release as bandleader, especially as we can now hear what we've been missing. For the second outing by her Be Bread ensemble, the pianist has assembled an all star cast of frequent collaborators. Bassist Stomu Takeishi, guitarist Brandon Ross and trumpeter Cuong Vu are holdovers from the debut disc, here joined by clarinetist Ben Goldberg and Matt Wilson at the traps. Melford herself concentrates solely on piano. Electronics are set aside for an all-acoustic palette, resulting in a high level of cohesiveness across the 65-minute program.
Most of the eight original pieces were written as part of a suite in the fall of 2004, with support of a Chamber Music America grant. All have been performed many times over the last five years in a variety of settings. Such familiarity makes for a committed and potent ensemble performance of music which satisfies both the head and the heart with its switchback arrangements, well integrated solo space and emotionally ambiguous themes. Melford's rhythmic acumen and barreling blues inflections together with Wilson's crisply propulsive drive and resourceful percussive textures banish any thought of the salon: this is chamber music with attitude.
Melford is well served by her band. Goldberg's poised mellifluous clarinet and Vu's casually expressive trumpet make for an engaging pairing, combining well in unison, but shining apart, with Goldberg's popping percolating contra-alto clarinet introduction to "Knocking from the Inside" and Vu's spluttering breathy excursion on "Moon Bird" which is especially noteworthy. Not to be outdone, the leader contributes a dazzling opening cadenza to the same track, almost Taylor-esque in its fragmentation and percussive attack. Ross' spiky picking, particularly on soprano guitar, adds a voice incisive in phrasing but unconventional in timbre, meshing attractively with Takeishi's pliant acoustic bass guitar for a kinetic rhythmic latticework.
Whether breaking out of the soaring klezmer waltz of "Through the Same Gate" with an unfettered piano solo, navigating the knotty staccato title trackonly to frame duets for first bass and guitar, then rippling piano and clarinetor pressing the get-up-an- go urgency of "I See a Horizon" into a swirling ensemble mash up, Melford's taut arrangements blur the distinction between front line and support, group and solo. Each richly voiced cut is different in construction and mood, drawing on a wide range of world music influences, yet the outcome remains distinctive and unclassifiable. The Whole Tree Gone is yet another outstanding release from Firehouse 12, and a triumph for Melford.
Track Listing: Through the Same Gate; Moon Bird; Night; The Whole Tree Gone; A Generation Comes and Another Goes; I See a Horizon; On the Lip of Insanity; Knocking from the Inside.
Personnel: Myra Melford: piano; Cuong Vu: trumpet; Ben Goldberg: clarinet and contra-alto clarinet; Brandon Ross: guitar and soprano guitar; Stomu Takeishi: acoustic bass guitar; Matt Wilson: drums.
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