Friday, October 29, 2010

Melford / Epps / Zubot and Raegele / Perkin / Gossage at the Montreal OFF Jazz Festival


October 16, 2010
Sala Rossa
Montreal OFF Jazz Festival

Melford Trio

On the second night of the Montreal OFF Jazz Festival, pianist Myra Melford performed a rare all-improvised set in the company of two local musicians. Melford’s invitation to 11th edition of the festival included an opportunity for her to choose to fill out her trio from a list of a number of local musicians. The Chicago native chose trumpeter Elwood Epps and violinist Josh Zubot to complete the trio.

Melford began the set by dedicating it to her mentor, violinist Leroy Jenkins. That was very fitting given that Melford was one-third of another violin and horn trio, Equal Interest, featuring Jenkins and saxophonist Joseph Jarman.

The opening piece set the tone for the set with Melford under the hood, manipulating the piano strings with some textural offerings, alternately scraping and strumming. This was the first of several uses during the set, of the piano playing a role similar to the drone of the tanpura used in Indian classical music, at least mood-wise.

Myra was next joined by Zubot playing long lines and Epps picking up the pace at a frenzied pitch through his mute. Melford seemed undaunted playing outside of her usual compositional context. From the first moment she was following Epps and Zubot’s exclamations with waves of deep arpeggios swelling under two higher-pitched instruments, always singing.

The third piece paired Epps and his plunger mute with Zubot and his violin preparations, providing an interesting sonic palette of slippery-sounding trumpet and crunchy violin. Melford accompanied them on the piano strings, this time in a percussive role by plucking the piano strings providing a solid rhythmic base for Epps and Zubot’s improvisations.

Melford opened the next piece with sustained drone-like chords upon which Epps and Zubot responded with a free-for-all improvisation, with Zubot particularly kinetic, where at one moment one had to worry about whether his instrument would be able to endure the performance! This followed with a closing piece where the three musicians entered softly with Melford providing striking interjections on her prepared piano with a celeste-like quality.

While purely improvised music can often be hit-or-miss, this was clearly comprised of more hits than misses. Of particular note was Zubot and Epps’ rapport (they perform together as the duo Land of Marigold.) As one would expect from Melford, even the most tumultuous moments were grounded in solid tonal/harmonic territory. Overall a very satisfying date, and yet another example of how fruitful local – visiting musician encounters can be.

Raegele Trio

The Melford set was preceded by a trio led by guitarist Steve Raegele, including bassist Miles Perkin and drummer Thom Gossage. The music was quite unique, much of it slow and ruminating, focusing more on Raegele’s compositions rather than the trio’s chops.

The compositions ranged from knotty melodies a la Ben Monder to monolithic declarations. Textures were explored by Perkin and Gossage as Raegele fleshed out the chordal structure of his music. Occasional grooves developed as a welcome change of pace to a set of music that was often deeply introspective and usually somber. The weight of some of the writing was rendered more buoyant on the strength of his sidemen, especially Perkin, who I had never heard before, but who left a strong impression.

Raegele’s music gives the impression that it probably reveals itself better through repeated listenings (he has recorded as a leader on the Songlines label.) Raegele is definitely deserving of wider recognition.



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