ListN Up: Myra Melford (June 4, 2021)

ListN Up is a weekly series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

“This is music with an endless capacity for elasticity and surprise,” NPR wrote of Myra Melford’s 2018 release, The Other Side of Air, “along with an affirming spirit of coherence.” The pianist, composer, bandleader and University of California, Berkeley, professor Myra Melford—whom the New Yorker called “a stalwart of the new-jazz movement”—has spent the last three decades making original music that is equally challenging and engaging. She’s explored an array of formats, among them ruminative solo-piano recitals, deeply interactive combos and ambitious multidisciplinary programs, probing the space shared between dynamic small-group jazz and contemporary chamber music.  Melford is a recipient of the Alpert Award in the Arts for Music, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award.

I’m Myra Melford and these are some of the pieces of music I’ve been listening to repeatedly over the course of the pandemic.  Several are recent discoveries, and others are favorites from the past few years. They’ve all inspired and uplifted me, suggested fresh ways to put things together, and have prompted me to listen more deeply. I hope you enjoy!

Phenomenon by Pan Daijing

Phenomenon is the opening track from Pan Daijing’s 2017 album Lack. I love the raspy, raw texture she draws out of the piano strings juxtaposed with the lyrical operatic vocal line, and the economy of means through which she conveys a heightened, almost haunting, presence.

Old Locks and Irregular Verbs Pt. 4 by Henry Threadgill’s Ensemble Double Up

This section of Henry Threadgill’s monumental tribute to Butch Morris, released in 2015, is so moving. The breadth of expression from lyrical to fiery in Jason Moran and David Virelles’ piano playing, and how Threadgill’s beautiful harmonies–laid out with plenty of room for the players’ commentary–evoke the spirit of Butch Morris and his visionary way of conducting improvisers. Uplifting and heart-affirming.

For Love by Jason Moran

For Love is one of my many favorites on a new solo piano recording, The Sound Will Tell You by Jason Moran, that came out earlier this year.  I love this one for its simplicity, warmth, and elegance. Another example of how much can be said with an economy of means in masterful hands.

“A Kind Word” by Ron Miles, performed with Brian Blade (drums), Bill Frisell (guitar), Jason Moran (piano), and Thomas Morgan (bass)

“A Kind Word,” from the 2020 release Rainbow Sign, is just totally uplifting–a beautiful melody and set of chord changes, and then a rocking collective vamp by a stellar band that takes over the majority of the performance. Again, so much is conveyed with a seemingly simple, but very deep, idea. Ron Miles is one of my favorite musicians in any genre. He has an intuitive knack for knowing just what the music needs, and his contributions as a composer and player are always selfless, purely about the music, and always a humbling inspiration.

Landscape of Fear by Marcos Balter, performed by Ryan Muncy and Peter Evans

I was introduced to this 2015 piece just a few months ago. I love the energy, the playfulness, and the way Marcos Balter engages these virtuosic performers in improvisation–blurring the lines between what’s composed and what’s made up on the spot. Bull’s eye!

Inside Game by Steve Coleman, performed by Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse

I keep coming back to this track from Steve Coleman’s 2017 release, Morphogenesis. His research into ritual rhythms, metaphysics, and natural processes gives this drummer-less recording a kind of mystical magnetism. And I love hearing his orchestration with so much transparency.

Lobe of the Fly by Angelica Sanchez, performed with Marilyn Crispell

Two of my favorite pianists, Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell, come together on this 2020 release, How to Turn the Moon. Here they’re performing a brief and fascinating composition by Angelica that explores tightly interconnected contrapuntal lines before turning into a point of departure for their fiercely virtuosic pianisms.

4 Hands Pt 1 and 2  by Tyshawn Sorey, performed with Cory Smythe

These two piano duets on Tyshawn Sorey’s 2007 release that/not are not only concise and beautiful, but exemplify, for me, two different aspects of his voice as a performer/composer. The first: percussive, fleet, full of off-kilter rhythms, and close intervals. The second: more meditative, patient, and spacious. I love that Tyshawn’s music doesn’t fit neatly into a single category (though it’s all new music)–he’s riding the current wave that’s washing out the no-longer-necessary or useful boundaries between composed/improvised, concert hall/club, and serious/popular. It’s all great music that asks us to listen with open ears and heart.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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