Pianist Myra Melford’s new album, Snowy Egret, marks the recorded debut of her new band by that name. The image of a transformative white bird appeared to Melford in a dream, so she appropriated it for this project and the musical dream team of trumpeter Ron Miles, guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.
Ellman and Takeishi, also members of saxophonist Henry Threadgill’s Zooid, share an intuitive relationship. It’s one that exists unto itself, at the center of this music, without disregarding the leader’s ideas in favor of their own. Starting early on “The Kitchen,” they engage in subdued conversation — all pings and throbs — before the band returns. And when Melford begins to solo, Takeishi plays so hard that he’s almost battling her for dominance, while Sorey drives them both onward with high-energy barrages from his kit. In response, Melford hits the keys harder and harder, producing thick low-end clangs that drive the bassist away.
Melford’s melodies are quick and more pointillistic than bluesy, with plenty of unison piano-trumpet lines that dance in the air. On “Ching Ching/For Love of Fruit,” though, she switches to melodica. Her soloing here — periodically tagged with interjections from Miles — becomes more florid and loquacious, as though a mouth-based instrument inspires her to even greater expressive heights than the hands-only piano.
“The Virgin of Guadalupe” is the most beautiful of the album’s slower pieces, Miles’ muted horn singing a sad song as Melford, Takeishi and Sorey trudge steadily forward like lost migrants refusing to abandon their journey. And Snowy Egret’s final track, “The Strawberry,” begins with a minute of fantastic, gospel-derived solo piano before a shuffling, almost New Orleans rhythm — very slightly refracted through ultramodern New York jazz — takes over, thereby prompting an irresistible urge to dance. It’s a terrific conclusion to one of Melford’s best albums. Listeners will hope that Snowy Egret records again soon and becomes one of her working bands. —Phil Freeman