Tuesday, April 24, 2018

HAT HUT Releases Rest of Melford’s 1993 German Sessions

At the beginning of July of last year, this site reported on the reissue by HAT HUT of the first of two CDs recorded by the Myra Melford Trio in Germany in February of 1993. The two-CD album was originally released under the title Alive in the House of Saints; and the four tracks of the first CD were all recorded in Heiligenhaus at a place called simply The Club. The second CD hit the street this past February; but, as a result of my never-ending struggle to juggle my priorities, I was only able to give this album serious listening this morning. Although Melford currently teaches at the University of California at Berkeley, I have to confess that these two CDs provided my first introduction to her work.

Calling it “her” work may be a bit unfair. Melford, who is a pianist, formed a trio with Lindsey Horner on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums in 1990; and that was the group that found itself in Germany as part of a Knitting Factory tour. While Melford is listed as the composer of all the selections (four on the first CD and six on the second), each piece is very much a conversation among equals. The first four tracks of the second CD come from that same date at The Club. February 5, 1993. The remaining two tracks were recorded earlier (February 3) at the Alte Oper, the original opera house in Frankfurt am Main.

The jacket notes for the second CD were written by Andy Hamilton on October 14, 2017 (i.e. after the reissue of the first CD). He begins by calling Melford a polystylist and then devotes the rest of his text to trying to explain what that means, classifying any number of familiar names (not just from the jazz world) in terms of whether or not they belong to that category. Personally, I have to say that, when you have to go to that much effort to explain what you mean by a category label, then the label itself may not be as useful as you wish it to be.

More useful may be to consider how Melford and her colleagues can use the past as a point of departure from which they head off in a new direction. This approach is nicely demonstrated in the second track of that second CD, entitled “Some Kind Of Blues.” The very title suggests that the group is going to jerk that chain that holds you to categories you tend to use as if they were the most familiar things in the world. However, the piece is also jerking Hamilton’s own chain, to the extent that he has held up Horace Silver as one of Melford’s influences. If there is an auditory equivalent to squinting your eyes, you do not have to squint the ears, so to speak, very hard to detect a very faint spirit of Silver in “Some Kind Of Blues.” Indeed, the title itself points those ears in the right direction by suggesting an association with one of Silver’s best-known tunes, “Señor Blues.”

Mind you, you will not be able to hum “Señor Blues” while listening to “Some Kind Of Blues;” but that is just the point. Silver is never more than that “faint spirit,” a ghostly presence observing how this trio can take any traditional idea about blues and veer it off into another direction. I shudder to think that, sooner or later, there were be an academic treatise on the connection between these two pieces. As far as I am concerned, it is enough to have fun listening to this track.

I also confess to having a bit of fun with some of Melford’s other titles. The second and third tracks of the first CD were entitled “Now & Now 1” and “Between Now & Then,” respectively. Sure enough, one of the tracks recorded in Frankfurt (which took place before all of the tracks on the first CD were recorded) was given the title “Now & Now 2.” (Those interested in the finer details may appreciated that the two “Now & Now” tracks are almost exactly the same duration.)

My tastes being what they are, I was almost immediately reminded of Mel Brooks’ science fiction parody film from 1987, Spaceballs, in which Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) poses the metaphysical question “When will then be now?,” to which Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) replies “Soon!” It takes more than a little chutzpah to mess with time-consciousness; but Brooks knew enough about the real thing to do it right. Melford may not be as aggressive as Brooks was, but she is just as enjoyable.

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