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Last night at the Seattle Art Museum Myra Melford played a wonderful set of her hard to describe compositions.

The singular pianist formed this group in 2012 to perform pieces she wrote for its towering talents: Ron Miles (trumpet), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Stomu Takeishi (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums).

The term “restless” is used with some frequency to describe modern creative musicians with varied sets of proclivities, collaborators, and outlets, and that description may be an apt one for the iconoclastic pianist and composer Myra Melford. But what’s impressive about Melford is how centered and at home she sounds in all of the myriad projects she has been involved with since her emergence in the early ‘90s.
Shaped and emboldened by formative periods of study with Don Pullen and Henry Threadgill, Melford is a composer and musician of seamless range and variety. There is a spiritual tinge and particular geographic orientation to much of her music – experiences such as a trip to India on a Fulbright scholarship and an immersion in the writings of Sufi mystic poet Rumi have had a tangible effect on her aesthetic. From solo piano music to large-scale ensemble creations, her wide-ranging output has brought her into collaboration with a staggering array of the most creative musicians of recent times, including Cuong Vu, Dave Douglas, Han Bennink, and Leroy Jenkins.
Snowy Egret is Melford’s latest group, and one of her finest to date. Featuring Ron Miles on cornet, Liberty Ellman on guitar, Stomu Takeishi on electric bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Snowy Egret is a band full of imposing improvisers, capable of exacting focus but with a flexible, elastic sense of rhythm and interplay.

Inspired by the writings of Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, the band’s recent self-titled album is a feat of balance and nuance. There is a notable Latin American influence in some of the writing, but the music is of its own world, simultaneously earthy and cerebral. Henry Threadgill remains one of Melford’s key mentors, and his influence is present both musically and in shared personnel (Ellman and Takeishi are both long-time members of Threadgill ensembles), but the vision is uniquely Melford’s own. Gospel grooves, pointillistic free passages, and knotty ensemble writing all share space, and blend into a dreamy whole, both familiar and comfortable yet bracingly new.

 

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