Pianist Myra Melford first converged with violist/violinist Tanya Kalmanovitch on an unrehearsed duet at a 2003 festival. Their similar backgrounds—both played classical music before studying jazz—and individual senses of adventure make for a strong pairing. Sonically, some tracks barely exist: Faint, ghostly scrapes can be heard if the volume is increased. After a fierce, free exchange “(Into a Gunnysack and into the Kootenay River”), the duo switches gears with a dreamy canon (“The Kid on the Mountain”). Melford frequently picks up on her partner’s wild harmonics and deftly manipulates the strings of her instrument. Of the 19 tracks on Heart Mountain, seven of them clock in at less than two minutes; only two last longer than five.
The rest of them fall somewhere in between. The brevity practically requires that the whole album be viewed as one, ever-changing piece. Otherwise, while the “hit it and quit it” approach is admirable for free improvisers, the individual pieces sound confined, like they’re stopping before things take off. It would have been interesting to hear them start, for instance, with the harmonium/viola drone of “Annapurna” and work it into a longer piece that switched over to the piano for more dimension. Still, the rapport between these two is electric, throughout.