Myra Melford’s avant garde approach to music is filled with moments of intensity and light. Melford’s career is an illustrious one, with a Fulbright scholarship, a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, and an academic background teaching at the University of California, so one would expect her work to be much more static or traditional. Instead, Melford breathes life into jazz by making it extremely dynamic and unpredictable. Snowy Egret, which is the quintet she formed and played with last night, is an edgy take on jazz.
The band started off last night with a new, smooth, but upbeat, song called “Small Thoughts.” This piece was a good way to start a performance that was quite creative, making the most of the instruments as they often sounded like more than a trumpet, drums, or piano. Melford’s hands on the piano are so fast at times – it is unreal. Then, there are some more calm, quiet, and melodic moments that bring a respite to the audience, but not for long as she soon brings dynamism again to the performance.
Melford and Snowy Egret performed songs from their upcoming album, which will soon be released by Firehouse 12 Records. They also played songs from their previous album, Snowy Egret, which included their most dynamic performance with the song “The Virgin of Guadalupe.” The entire ensemble sounded like there were more than five musicians on stage, with Melford coordinating all the moving parts in what was at times somber, and then elevated into a stream of sounds that was adventurous.
Snowy Egret is made up Ron Miles, who plays the cornet, Liberty Ellman on the guitar, Stomu Takeishi, who plays the acoustic bass guitar, and Tyshawn Sorey at the drums. Along with Melford, the quintet was in top form last night with sounds that expanded the traditional understanding of their own instruments. During the song “Ching, Ching/ For the Love of Fruit,” Melford even took out a melodica serving sweeter, more seductive reverberations. The entire performance is a fitting act for the Direct/Current annual series at The Kennedy Center, which presents an immersive showcase for cutting-edge pieces. Snowy Egret is in itself a wonderful sight. The five musicians play off of each other in a way that makes you lost in the flow; there is clearly a great deal of trust on stage.
There are surely some conventional jazz moments with undulating rhythms, but you may easily be drawn in. The magic in Melford and Snowy Egret is how easily one is transported to another world. It may be an unfamiliar world, but it is an exciting one. There were some up tempo numbers last night, including “The Kitchen,” which is an abstract but bustling track that is a delight to see live. Melford brings her entire body into the performance, throwing her petite frame into the keyboard.
The series KC Jazz Club plays at the Terrace Gallery, which is a fantastic venue of The Kennedy Center. It is a great way to discover the Center and see it in a completely different light than those shows at the Concert Hall or Opera House. Last night the Terrace Gallery was outfitted to become a jazz club, and for those of us who may not be “in the know” with jazz happenings, this series does not disappoint, serving up worthy and engaging acts in a consistent way.
Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.
KC Jazz Club: Myra Melford with Snowy Egret played for one night only on March 10, 2018, at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street, N.W. in Washington, D.C. For tickets to other performances in the KC Jazz Club series, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.