Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Myra Melford: Trio M's "Guest House" and Reflections on Piano Trios

I love piano trios. I play piano for my own enjoyment -- my family tells me all the time that it is for MY enjoyment, hint hint. I marvel at watching what real pianists do, I sit where I can see the hands of the pianist at work, and I wish I had worked harder at becoming at least a better amateur. All this is to reiterate I love piano trios and buy lots of recordings.

But of course there are all sorts of piano trios, from those that would be considered absolute mainstream like Bill Evans or Mulgrew Miller or Cedar Walton, to those that are considered avant garde and bring in effects and maybe some electronics -- the group that comes to mind at this end is The Necks, from Australia, who I will discuss in a later blog. In between we have a genre that might be called the ECM group or chamber jazz, another genre featuring trios like Bad Plus or Trichotomy or Rachel Z who are introducing pop and bending the rules, and I am sure there are other groupings that one could identify.

So saying I love piano trios is not really saying much as a descriptor. If one wants to tell another jazz listener about a trio recording, what it is like, or whether they would appreciate it, it is useful to have some kind of reference point for discussion, for creating a mental image. How do you describe Jason Moran's "Ten" or Gerald Clayton's "Bond"? Kenny Werner's "Lawn Chair Society"?

Product DetailsProduct DetailsToday, Peter Hum (  reviewed a few piano trios, which he labeled as coming from "piano trio encounters of the first kind." He went on:  "What’s the “first kind” of piano trio, you ask? For my purposes, such groups are led by piano masters with great dedication to the jazz canon and to resolute swinging." To this blogger that means folks like Evans, Walton, Jarrett, Barron et al., or the players Peter was reviewing like Peter Zak and Helen Sung.

So what's the second kind, or third kind? How many real kinds are there? Does it matter a whole lot? Probably not, except when trying to tell a friend what a disk might sound like, whether they might like it, how it fits into their frame of reference. Sometime I want to think about this more and maybe write about it. Maybe Peter Hum will define a second kind for us to ponder, maybe not.

Product Details

The point in thinking about all this for me today is that I picked up the Trio M disk "Guest House" knowing full well that Myra Melford is definitely not of the "first kind" of trio player. I have one disk that went to far to the avant garde for my taste, the duet with Satoko Fujii entitled "Under the Water", and I know she has ties to The Knitting Factory, John Zorn, Firehouse 12, Henry Threadgill, all of which/whom are definitely outside the box. But then I also have her work with her group Be Bread, "The Whole Tree Gone" which I enjoy greatly, is out there, but not out there too far. I find it approachable with all sorts of interesting textures, great support from outstanding players like Cuong Vu on trumpet and Ben Goldberg on clarinet, and lovely melodies.

Product DetailsSo with a bid of trepidation I picked up "Guest House," not being sure what to expect.  And I love it. She definitely goes beyond "a piano encounter of the first kind", but not so far as to leave behind the basic tenents of harmony, melody, and group interplay. Together with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson,  I find this recording to be a wonderfully playful and adventerous effort and one that many people who are afraid to stretch out a bit should listen to. This is a definite team effort that blurs any distinction between frontline and accompanist, that shapes wonderfully flowing music that can be uplifiting or introspective, rigorous at times and improvisational at others, but always structured and accessible. The group bends the genre, extends its form, and creates its own unique mark on the art of the trio.

Now I can't wait to purchase the 2007 Trio M effort "Big Picture."

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. I chanced on your site while researching the 'Guest House' album fearful that it might be overly avant garde for my tastes but found, like you, that it was just gritty enough. I shall look forward to reading more of your writing.