Marty Ehrlich and Myra Melford have been collaborating since 2000, and Spark
! is evidence of the supernatural musical bond the two have built with each other. You might expect that an entire record with just sax / clarinet and piano would wear out its welcome quickly. But Spark
! holds your attention and emotion throughout with the intensity of Ehrlich's and Melford's playing combined with a range of compositional moods, from the frolicking of "Hymn Pt 1" to the brooding melancholy of "Night" to the frenzy of "Up Do." The more you listen the better the music gets, as you lose your pretensions about what a jazz record is supposed to be and begin to hear the improvisational subtleties of the interplay between these two fine musicians.
According to www.allmusic.com, Ehrlich and Melford drew upon the poetry of a Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri for two of their pieces, "A Generation Comes and Another Goes" and "I See A Horizon." Al-Jawahiri spoke out about political decadence and compromise in the Arab world. Inspired, Melford composed the two pieces to offer musical prayers for peace and joy in Iraq. This hints at the depth of the music offered here; it's not only to entertain, it is to tell a story and call the listener into deeper reflection.
The sound of the record is unusual; Melford's piano sounds warm and close, while Ehrlich's sax and clarinet sound wide and distant; it's as if the piano was recorded in a small enclosed space while the woodwinds were set in a big, airy room. But the effect is not unpleasant; it's as if you are seated next to Melford while Ehrlich calls to both of you from afar.
Overall, the music of Spark
! is hard to classify; it mostly lacks the conventional forms and rhythms of jazz. The term "improvisational classical" is awkward but apt in capturing the striking combination here of the beauty of classical composition with improvisational creation. Listen without prejudice to either form and you will thoroughly enjoy Spark