Myra Melford + Ben Goldberg

Bag Productions BAG 010

By Ken Waxman

Chamber music-styled jazz that still manages to inject spunk into compositions otherwise replete with soft-hued detailing, pianist Myra Melford and clarinetist Ben Goldberg make the most of studied interactions on these 13 tracks, mostly composed by the pianist. Able to matter-of-factly scoot from rhythmic swing to ascetic improvisations with the uncomplicated aplomb of a trapeze team making their acrobatic feats seem commonplace, only in rare instances does the duo grandstand with extended techniques. The watchword here is nuance.

For instance a track such as “Be Melting Snow” may appear to be all cool jazz impressionism due to its meandering exposition, but pulsating key pumps and contralto glissandi help the snow melt with fiery improvising, exposing a tougher theme and players as in sync as they are syncopated. Sweetened Artie Shaw-like tonal clarinet variations help “9+5” open up into sprightly swing, although Goldberg’s pinched peeps and Melford’s high-energy pianism later confirm its modernity.

Throughout, the conjoined twins-like bonding is displayed from the full spectrum of piano and clarinet tones. The connection can take place during picturesque tunes that are shaped from piano notes so low that they’re almost subterranean and chalumeau reed sighs to propel the pieces forward. Or, as on “City of Illusion” and others, dynamic keyboard cascades and probing squeals recall the heyday – but none of the sloppiness – of 1970s Energy Music. While almost initially pushed into the next room by rugged hunt-and-peck key splaying on The Kitchen, for example, the clarinetist’s speech-inflected ostinato slowly inflates to flutter tonguing, so that by the climax, Melford’s crimped high-frequency runs become free enough to also interpolate sly boogie-woogie references. This same skill allows them to delineate with almost pictorial skill the desolate and lovely emotions captured on a “Moonless Night”.

Working in lockstep, the two still manage to positively define individual musical personalities. And that’s what makes this a dialogue of equals and a significant showcase for two of improvised music’s most prodigious talents.

Concert Note: Myra Melford be part of a double bill with Amina Claudine Myers in concert at the Co-operators Hall, River Run Centre at 8 pm on Saturday September 17

-For The Whole Note September 2016