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Myra Melford and Crush: Dance Beyond the Color

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Whether serving as an integral part of large ensembles conducted by Butch Morris, as a member of the Trio Equal Interest (along with violinist Leroy Jenkins and reedman Joseph Jarman) or leading her own aggregations, pianist-composer Myra Melford’s output continues to personify Lester Young’s definition of artistic excellence: “You got to be original, man.”

Crush, which features bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Kenny Wolleson, is no exception. For in addition to featuring some of Melford’s most sublime, engaging compositions to date, her solos and accompaniment show there is still much to be learned and recast from the whispered, romantic legacies of fellow pianists Herbie Nichols and Bill Evans as well as the raucous, tumbling wellspring of the blues. This isn’t to imply that Melford apes the aforementioned approaches in a palatable manner. Titles such as “Like Rain Whispers Mist” are, however, exquisite examples of intriguing, restful harmonic light and shadow, and of the trio’s characteristically unified interplay.

By contrast, “Always Chant Could One” allows Melford and friends to swing and strut their way through a blue(s) melodic minefield. Like Charlie Parker, Melford (sometimes literally) plays the blues on every tune, and the tradition has seldom had better friends.

Dance Beyond the Color has more than a few tinges of the required daily dosages of blues, ballads, and Afro-Hispanic rhythms jazz’s Surgeon Generals-Crouch and Marsalis-insist must consist in the music. That Melford has once again made those sounds new should serve notice to both those who would have us limit ourselves to literal “Swing Street”-based recreations for our aesthetic vitamins and to those who take Prez’s dictum to heart.