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Myra Melford’s Fire and Water Quintet: For the Love of Fire and Water (RogueArt)

A review of the pianist-led all-women quintet's first album

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Myra Melford's Fire and Water Quintet: For the Love of Fire and Water (RogueArt)
The cover of For the Love of Fire and Water by Myra Melford’s Fire and Water Quintet

For the Love of Fire and Water takes its name and inspiration from a series of works by artist Cy Twombly. Pianist Myra Melford doesn’t attempt to create music that translates the images into sounds. Instead she sees a parallel between Twombly’s habit of drawing in the dark and her own approach to the piano, since both disciplines are built on gesture and energy. Like a stroll through a gallery, the 10 tracks pull visitors into the art, with music that sounds alternately aggressive and understated depending on the track.

The quintet convened for the project includes established leaders in improvised music, all of them women: Mary Halvorson (guitar), Tomeka Reid (cello), Ingrid Laubrock (soprano and tenor saxophones), and Susie Ibarra (drums, gongs). Melford forgoes titles for the individual tracks, designating each one with a Roman numeral. This setup makes the album feel like a continuous suite even as it moves from free group improvisation into pensive sections and a passage where plinks, pops, and creaks break through the silence.

After the opening movement, in which Melford’s bandmates eventually join in with her rapid piano lines, the group often breaks into subgroups, sometimes running wild but usually following a riff that the pianist introduces on her instrument’s lower end. “III” begins with Laubrock’s soprano in a cat-and-mouse exchange with Halvorson, before offering room to the other three players for a free romp. Ibarra’s Filipino gongs and cymbal rolls add dimension to a slow piano/cello melody in “IV.” The members of the quintet bring a collective spark to the music, but Melford is the most dynamic of all. Even when she delves into a Cecil Taylor-esque flurry, the fire of her lines still sounds welcoming.

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Overdue Ovation: Pianist-Composer Myra Melford

Originally Published

Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at