Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

MELFORD, Myra

(b 5 Jan. '57, Evanston IL) Pianist, composer, leader; one of the brightest talents in improvised music to emerge in the '90s. She graduated from Evergreen State College in Olympia WA '81 with a BA in music, studied with Gary Peacock and Art Lande in Seattle, studied composition with Henry Threadgill and piano with Don Pullen, and was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition; she has worked with dance and theatre groups, played gigs and workshops in clubs, festivals and universities all over the USA and Europe. She released two cassettes on Nisus: Current Events '85 (duo with flautist Marion Brandis) and solo One For Now '86, which incl. 'Frank Lloyd Wright Goes West To Rest', a piece selected by Composer's Forum for a performance by the Brooklyn Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble cond. by Tania Leon. Her playing was a lush romanticism tinged with gospel, tending to free playing, often with a walking left hand; critics looked forward to her development. She played solo on compilation Live At The Knitting Factory Vol. 1 '89, formed a trio with Lindsey Horner on bass, Reggie Nicholson on drums and recorded Jump '90--91 and Now And Now '91--2 on Enemy and Alive In The House Of Saints '93 on hat Art (incl. a trio version of 'Frank Lloyd Wright'); with superb support from Horner and Nicholson, she was clearly getting it together: 'There is wonderful push-pull to this music and it does not sound forced,' wrote Cadence, comparing the trio to the Ellington trio with Charles Mingus and Max Roach on Money Jungle. Even The Sounds Shine '95 on hat Art was made by the Extended Ensemble, adding Marty Erlich on reeds and Dave Douglas on trumpet; then a new improvising ensemble and her new album were called The Same River, Twice '96 on Gramavision/Rykodisc. Meanwhile she played with Butch Morris on Dust To Dust '91 and appears on his amazing ten-CD Testament: A Conduction Collection '95, both on New World Records; on Threadgill's Song Out Of My Trees '93 and Makin' A Move '95, and on Themes And Improvisations On The Blues '94 on CRI by Leroy Jenkins (b 11 March '32, Chicago; violinist, composer, bandleader). She has also worked with Han Bennink (Eleven Ghosts, hatOLOGY '97), Joseph Jarman, Fred Frith and many others, and appeared on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz PBS radio programme '95.

She pounds hell out the piano and makes it beautiful, as Canada's Coda magazine put it; her piano style is orchestral yet crystal clear, unafraid of going to the edge and pulling melody out of its own power, and her compositions suggest the motion of dance. The music is avant-garde in the sense that it does not have a conventional rhythm section beating 4/4 time, but its beautiful acoustic clarity renders it easily accessible. Like Threadgill, Edward Wilkerson, Maria Schneider and others, she uses her lineup in unconventional ways to create her own textures; on Even The Sounds Shine (from a Portuguese poem) the compositions are strung together to make a gigantic symphony of bright and joyous riffs, while The Same River, Twice was suggested by Heraclitus: 'You could not step twice into the same rivers; for other waters are ever flowing onto you.' The later group incl. co-producer and trumpeter Douglas, Eric Friedlander on cello (playing arco, hauntingly, in the high registers, as on 'The Large Ends The Way', inspired by the Vietnam War Memorial), Michael Sarin on drums and Chris Speed on tenor sax and B-flat clarinet; in the demanding tradition of Charles Mingus the music is a torrent of spontaneous play, demanding listening and collective skills from everyone. Douglas (b 24 March '63) has released Parallel Worlds on Soul Note with his string group, The Tiny Bell Trio on Songlines, sextet (incl. Speed) In Our Lifetime on New World/Countercurrents and Constellations on hat Art (the Tiny Bell Trio); he has also recorded with John Zorn, Don Byron, Mark Dresser, Han Bennink, Uri Caine and others. Melford's future plans incl. the collective trio Equal Interest with Jarman and Jenkins (quintet album on Ocean adding Horner on bass, Jeffrey Schanzer on guitar '97), a new trio record and a solo album in the works.