MYRA MELFORD/MARTY EHRLICH

Yet Can Spring
Arabesque Recordings AJO 154

One may be the loneliest number, but for committed improvisers creating as a duo can be fraught with more anxiety than playing on one's own. Uncompromising solo work may necessitate capturing the listener's attention while weaving variations on the material. But when it takes two, each partner must be like mountain climbers hitched together by a thick rope. Even the tiniest movement of the other must be scrupulously anticipated and amplified so that both don't suddenly plunge down the precipice.

Luckily, youngish New Yorkers, pianist Myra Melford and multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich are veterans of such encounters. Melford has held her own with ethereal flautist Marion Brandis and burlesquing drummer Han Bennink, while Ehrlich has faced off against such hardcore idea men as bassist Anthony Cox and pianist/AACM theorist Muhal Richard Abrams.

YET CAN SPRING allows the featured duo to apply their collective history to three Melford originals, three Ehrlich compositions and two other tunes. A hushed, studied atmosphere results. And that could be this session's singular drawback for those used to the exuberant sounds each of the two can bring to his or her larger ensembles.

Case in point is the pianist's low key and philosophical "Here Is Only Moment". Her conception may have been imagined as dance-like, but the feeling from the alto saxophonist is one of motionlessness, as he floats over the changes. Elsewhere, not only does a cello-like sombreness color his playing on "Duiloquy", but there are times in Melford's solo that you could swear she was executing variations on "Moonlight Sonata". Later, vocalist Robin Holcomb's dirge-like art song, "The Natural World", anchors the two inside a hushed revival meeting with gospelish arpeggios from the piano and anguished soloing in tongues from the reedist.

More animated is Ehrlich's "March Fantastique", with its upper register saxophone glissandos and a short double time passage from Melford. However, it sounds less like a John Philip Sousa or even an Anthony Braxton march than a sprightly hop. Examining the album's context, in fact, blues pianist Otis Spann's "Don't You Know", with its echo of Ivory Joe Hunter's "Since I Lost My Baby" — a favored encore for Melford and Ehrlich — adds that missing spark to the CD. Melford's right hand keyboard forays and Ehrlich's melismatic sound pinpoint the sort of melancholy cheerfulness often found in the blues. And that's an earthier emotion, which should have been worked into more tunes. "Know" is no afterthought, since both come to the blues legitimately, Ehrlich collaborating with members of St. Louis' Black Artists Group over the years and Melford absorbing boogie-woogie basics from her first piano teacher in Illinois.

An interesting answer to the question of how to conduct a successful duo session, this CD offers many small pleasures. But who knows what surprises might result if these two let themselves loose on a whole program of deep blues?

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Yet Can Spring 2. Duiloquy 3. Here Is Only Moment 4. The Open Room 5. March Fantastique 6. The Natural World 7. Yellow Are Crowds of Flowers (I) 8. Don't You Know

Personnel: Marty Ehrlich (alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Myra Melford (piano)