Myra Melford's Snowy Egret
Wednesday, October 14th, 8 p.m.| Morris Graves Museum of Art
"A visionary bandleader with a singularly expansive sound embracing a global array of influences."
—Andrew Gilbert, Berkeleyside
"Ms. Melford is justly regarded as a fixture of the avant-garde, but in this band ... she strives for dynamic approachability. The crowd was ready to meet her halfway."
—Nate Chinen, New York Times
Pianist and composer Myra Melford is such an essential figure in modern music—and in the history of the RJA—that we’ve made her our first “three-peat” bandleader. (She brought Trio M here in 2007 and Be Bread in 2010.)
The idea for her newest band, “Snowy Egret,” gestated for almost a decade before it came to fruition as the multimedia performance piece “Language of Dreams,” inspired by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire. The ensemble’s songbook—graceful, searching, ruminative—comes out of that project.
Raised outside Chicago, Melford was brought up in the classical repertoire (though her piano teacher also schooled her in boogie-woogie and the blues), but in college she was drawn to the avant-garde aesthetic of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, eventually studying under two of the collective’s key members, Leroy Jenkins and Henry Threadgill. In the mid-1980s Melford moved to New York, where over the next fifteen years she became a fixture of the boundary-breaking “downtown” jazz scene. After a Fulbright studying devotional music in India, she relocated to California to take a professorship at Berkeley, where she has taught since 2004.
As a performer and composer, Melford has built a rich and diverse career with collaborators who share her curiosity, her daring, and her spiritual approach to improvisation. The past several years have been especially fruitful: since we saw her last, Melford was named a Guggenheim Fellow and Doris Duke Performing Artist, released her first album of solo piano, completed a two-year residency at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (where, among other things, she served as Artistic Director of the Center’s jazz program), and played a remarkable week at John Zorn’s influential performance space The Stone, where she gathered 26 musicians into ten different combinations for a retrospective of the music she’s made over the past quarter-century.
And how to describe that music? “She doesn’t really sound like anybody else, and nobody really sounds like her,” says bassist Lindsey Horner, who played in Melford’s trio in the early 1990s. “And that’s not easy. There’s a lot of great musicians doing a lot of great things, but the ones who are really following their own voice and really following it consistently over a long period of time, that’s much more rare, and that’s who she is.”
We find Melford’s music lyrical, angular, funky, delicate, intense, contemplative—the latter a quality she induces in her listeners, too. Her music demands your thoughtful attention, in fact, but always repays it. And the rewards aren’t only auditory. For one thing, the interplay among her band members—and Melford’s often trancelike passion at the keyboard—make her performances a joy to watch. But she engages the eyes and the intellect in other ways, too: “When I’m working in conjunction with something visual or something literary,” she told our Eric Neel back in 2007 (she frequently finds inspiration in paintings or texts), “it’s much more about being intuitive, it’s the sense of this sound having some relationship to this piece of art. Somebody else may have a completely different understanding of that relationship than I do, and that’s also valid. It’s not like I’m trying to get people to see things my way, or to see a particular thing. It’s that I’m trying to get people to open up, and maybe just to look at things differently.” Open your senses, as the title of one of her early compositions has it (nodding to the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa), and “Even the Sounds Shine.”
Tickets ($15 General Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here at our website and at People's Records, Wildwood Music, Wildberries, and The Works.
Snowy Egret will also present an open public workshop on Thursday morning, October 15th at 10:30 a.m. in HSU's Fulkerson Recital Hall. People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend, and admission is FREE.
Words & Pixels:
Video (see also at left):
Audio (see also at left):