At the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro, VT, Myra Melford in her Be Bread quartet performed a well-designed program. The performance mirrored her attention to detail, her adherence to a certain amount of structure and her sources of inspiration.
I have known about Myra Melford for years through her recordings and never in my wildest dreams expected to see her play. Her music is wonderfully melodic. The combination of instruments could not have been more appropriate. Cuong Vu played trumpet hooked up with electronics, Stomu Takeishi was on fretless electric bass, Joe Tomino was on drums and Myra Melford graced both the piano and the harmonium.
Melford made a conscious effort to explain the name of her quartet by reciting some lines of the poem that instigated her musical insights: "....if you've not been fed, then be bread. The mere choice of her quartet's name illustrates a valuable trait of the creative mind: when the pool of inspiration is dry, then inspiration must come from within the eternal recesses of the soul. The pieces in the program were all based on one poem; the themes of the pieces were all composed. Yet, the improvisations took off like rockets, developed into huge conglomerates of embracing sound. Just as this became recognizable, the music's tide melted down, slowly into the themes and then into the silence where the music all began.
Melford played multiples of chords with her tiny hands. Her fingers are made for being precise and accurate. Yet, she branched out of technical comfort by hitting the piano keyboard with the sides of her hands in groups of scalar ascents and alighting her fingers in spiderlike fashion in meterless bantering trills across the keys. When Melford played the harmonium, she was curled up with the instrument to create a magnetic intimacy as her right hand danced across the keyboard and her left moved the bellows in and out. She swayed with the groove. She directed her quartet musically. She counted once or twice out loud. The musicians knew the material well. They did not need much lead.
The quartet blossomed on the basis of the dynamic between the trumpet and the keyboards. Trumpeter Vu stayed basically within a range of harmony with Melford. However, his manipulation of electronics, intermixed with extremely pure tones from his trumpet, made sounds that were exquisitely oceanic in resonance. The bassist Takeishi sensibly aligned his music with the electronics. Sometimes, though, he would launch off-beat on his own and return to pedal into the largeness of the total. Mostly, however, Takeishi was completely integrated into the growth of the ideal balance of instruments; he was crucial to the maintenance of the pulse as well. But, drummer Tomino thoroughly drove the rhythmic content of the music. Despite his retiring, unassuming and youthful mien, Tomino exerted remarkably controlled energy and demonstrated his versatility within the limits of his simple drumset as he struck the components with mallets, sticks, and brushes and tinkled infinitesimal bells at just the right moment in keeping with the refined intensity of Melford's intentions.
Ostensible in Melford's music is its ethnicity. It is derived from Armenia, India and Europe. At least at this performance. And how important it is in this world today that another beautifully artistic effort be made to pull the people who live on the planet together so that we can 'leave our fears behind'.