Firehouse 12 Records welcomes esteemed pianist/composer Myra Melford to its roster with the release of The Whole Tree Gone (FH12-
04-01-012), her first recording as a bandleader since 2006. Recorded in the label's own state-of-the-art studio, this is Ms. Melford's second release featuring her eclectic ensemble, Be Bread, a longstanding collection of frequent collaborators that currently performs as an all-acoustic sextet. The Whole Tree Gone documents the latest evolution of eight original compositions she has been performing with this ensemble, and others, for the past five years.
Most of the music on this record came from a suite titled The Whole Place Goes Up, written in the fall of 2004 with the support of a Chamber Music America grant, Ms. Melford explains in the liner notes. 'Moon Bird' was written for a concert at the MOMA Sculpture Garden (NYC) in July 2005. Though originally written for Be Bread, I've enjoyed performing this music over the past few years with many wonderful musicians in several configurations, including the multimedia project Knock on the Sky and my duo with Marty Ehrlich. My heartfelt gratitude to the musicians who've given a part of themselves to bring this music to life.
Myra Melford :: piano
Guong Vu :: trumpet
Ben Goldberg :: clarinet and contra-alto clarinet
Brandon Ross :: guitar and soprano guitar
Stomu Takeishi :: acoustic bass guitar
Matt Wilson :: drums
Press Reviews for The Whole Tree Gone
Myra Melford is one of the most exciting musicians working in any genre, and though she's most frequently associated with the more avant-garde circles of jazz, sometimes it seems as if she's working in every genre. Drawing from influences as diverse as the blues of her native Chicago and the North Indian harmonium music she studied as a Fulbright Scholar in 2000, her music defies even the bravest attempts at categorization.
-Ehran Gresehover, At Length
Melford's rhythmic acumen and barreling blues inflections together with Wilson's crisply propulsive drive and resourceful percussive textures banish any thought of the salon: this is chamber music with attitude. Each richly voiced cut is different in construction and mood, drawing on a wide range of world music influences, yet the outcome remains distinctive and unclassifiable. The Whole Tree Gone is yet another outstanding release from Firehouse 12, and a triumph for Melford.
-John Sharpe, AllAboutJazz.com
Pianist Myra Melford founded this ensemble in 2002, specifically as an outlet for her compositions. She's blessed indeed, because this line up realizes them so beautifully. Her work can be described as pervasively contemplative though never quiet, which in its way is every bit as distinctive as the late Andrew Hill's depth of compositional character.
-Nic Jones, AllAboutJazz.com
This is really strong music! Played by a tight, mutually supportive sextet, pianist/composer Melford's evocative compositions and exquisite arrangements create a prismatic narrative of emotional depth. The Whole Tree Gone embodies high-level jazz artistry and musical eloquence. Highly recommended.
-Glen Hall, Exclaim!
The use of acoustic guitar and acoustic soprano guitar add some chamber music texture to the overall sound, although some of the pieces have an expansive urgency and percussive power that take it well beyond chamber music. It is also a delight to hear Cuong Vu's trumpet in an unadultered way: with a naked and clean sound. Maybe that characterizes the music best: it is of a vulnerable beauty and sensitivity, integrating styles and traditions, from blues over bop to avant-garde. Rich music!
-Stef Gijssels, Free Jazz
There's always room in the precincts of improvised music for a new album by the pianist Myra Melford. The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12), her first as a leader in more than three years, is a knockout by any standard, including the bar set by her previous work. Ambitious but approachable, suffused with airy warmth and restless calm, it unpacks a suite of lyrical compositions Ms. Melford has been refining since 2004. Be Bread, Ms. Melford's coolly intuitive cohort, girds every structure with a pliable integrity, making these pieces feel both supple and sturdy. Ms. Melford leads from within the stir, meting out her pianism in surges or shimmers, according to the music's needs.
-Nate Chinen, New York Times
Each piece stands on its own, with sections that allow the musicians to move easily and creatively through the music. Melford can play hard and fast with the best of them, with knuckle-busting phrases that jump out at the listener, short solo sections that are stunning for their power and rhythmic fire. Yet, she also displays a melodic grace and creative sense of wonder. The Whole Tree Gone is beautifully recorded, intimate, music that opens with each listen-take the time to listen to how each musician works within the compositions and enjoy the interaction.
-Richard Kamins, Step Tempest
Her style is based not on following directions but on creating a dialogue, wherein all six musicians have to listen keenly to one another. It works wonderfully on Be Bread's new album, The Whole Tree Gone.
-Rachel Swan, East Bay Express
A very nice record by New York pianist Myra Melford and her sextet (Cuong Vu, Ben Goldberg, Brandon Ross, Stomu Takeishi, Matt Wilson). It's also the jazziest and most accessible record released by Firehouse 12 to date. Melford writes agile pieces fitted with graceful melodies. And though her solos stray away from beaten paths, they do so strictly on harmonic level, for the beat, the groove, remains constant. In the range of jazz music I listen to, I'd qualify The Whole Tree Gone as light jazz. Very enjoyable. And I hadn't heard clarinetist Ben Goldberg in a while-he's got such as superb tone. Guitarist Brandon Ross is also a major attraction. But of course, Melford and her vivacious playing steal the show.
-Francois Couture, Monsieur Delire
These are pieces chock-full of great writing and great playing, and they never lose their way.
-Jon Garelick, Boston Phoenix
...On The Whole Tree Gone, which follows 2006's The Image Of Your Body (Cryptogramphone) as the sophomore release by her working ensemble Be Bread, Melford's music is clearly and expansively unfolded. The group couldn't be more ideally suited to the task. Melford's compositions, developed over a long period in different contexts, often revel in a temporal layering-slow, arching melodic lines (sometimes startlingly plainspoken) stretch above a more active ground, creating simmering tensions that intensify and disperse.
-John Corbett, DownBeat
Like her mentor, Henry Threadgill, Melford has a talent for effortlessly interweaving seemingly incongruous elements into cohesive multi-layered compositions, yielding a singular aesthetic that blurs the line between the written and improvised. As lyrical, adventurous and conceptually expansive as the work of contemporaries like Tim Berne, Dave Douglas and Marty Ehrlich, Melford's compositions are among the most compelling of her generation. Featuring finely tuned arrangements and buoyed by her sympathetic peers, The Whole Tree Gone is a high water mark in Melford's extraordinary oeuvre.
-Troy Collins, Point of Departure
Like her many projects, Myra Melford's Be Bread sextet continues to tap inspiration from other art forms and use it for music that sounds equally unique in style and sound. Most of the album's eight pieces were composed as a suite, and some tracks seem like multiple pieces within themselves while others build on hypnotic vamps. Alternately loose and extremely grounded, Melford's latest continues her ever-growing track record of arresting music.
-Mike Shanley, JazzTimes
Myra Melford writes and plays music for us "middle-of-the-road" folks. Her compositions are rooted in tonal harmony, with hooky melodies and agonizingly beautiful chord progressions, but the tether to those roots is mucho adjustable. It's the best of both worlds: you get the improvisational spirit-beauty turns into chaos, and vice versa, in an instant-with the comforts of more traditional bebop. Melford's latest, with her phenomenal group Be Bread, The Whole Tree Gone, is more of the same from this piano goddess and Berkeley professor.
-Michael Kabran, PopMatters.com
Her projects are never less than intriguing and totally thought through, and the music on this new CD, which is called The Whole Tree Gone, has been honed through performance for the past five years...the music is compelling from start to finish.
-Jez Nelson, BBC 3's Jazz on 3
This is 'out" music that knows how to be "in". The Whole Tree Gone is daring but joyous music-something as substantive as any hardcore avant-garde record, yet pleasing in nearly every way. Myra Melford, slowly but certainly in the last five years, has staked a claim to being one of the best of a new breed. She makes jazz feel fresh again, but she never makes the listener feel cheap in the process. This is her best disc, and it is one heck of a way to kick off jazz's new year.
-Will Layman, PopMatters.com
...Melford's own playing has always really tugged at my heartstrings. There's nothing saccharine or manipulative about her emotionalism, just a raw exuberance that's a delight to hear. The tunes provide maximum scope for emotion and creativity, as when Melford voices the horns in a manner recalling her own harmonium playing on the melancholy "Through The Same Gate" (where percussive string sounds, in tandem with [drummer Matt] Wilson, generate all kinds of scrumptious contrast). It's a must-hear for Melford fans, and the kind of disc that might make some new converts.
-Jason Bivins, Signal to Noise
This is a band of leaders but all seem more than willing to explore and expand upon Melford's wonderful compositions. The intricate "Moon Bird" is a case in point with its unusual thematic contours, moments of near group stasis and design to give all of these musicians a chance to speak their piece. What's remarkable, too, is how well this group meshes. It's particularly interesting to hear Ross at length on this disc; frequently in ensembles the acoustic guitar gets lost in the mix but here his sound blends perfectly with the ensemble.
-Robert Iannapollo, AllAboutJazz-New York
There is a charmingly understated folk sensibility that pervades this set, as if the purring wistfulness of tango or gypsy swing had been absorbed into the pianist's distinctive compositional voice without creating a 'fusion' per se. Delicacy is a word that is perhaps not associated enough with jazz, such is the lionisation of all that is hard, fast or loud, but Melford's music shows that subtle, slow and muted need not necessarily be equated with music that is devoid of either interest of energy. There is an episodic but very coherent quality to the leader's compositions that makes them soar and swoop into life as a bird in flight with the measured, at times discrete use of key changes or counterpoint increasing a very rich emotional backdrop.
-Kevin Le Gendre, BBC
The Whole Tree Gone features a powerful band that, in addition to Melford, includes trumpeter Cuong Vu, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Matt Wilson. Their music is a hypnotic combination of long, winding melody lines and assertive soloing with the ensemble frequently breaking down into subgroups. The entire group plays together rarely; piano and guitar duet, Vu and Goldberg take solos with little accompaniment, and there's a thrilling passage toward the end of "A Generation Comes And Another Goes" where Melford and Wilson go head-to-head, her solo combining spare beauty and percussive fury as the drummer smashes his cymbals and the guitarist interjects tiny spasms of picking that sound almost like a ukulele. Melford's playing constantly shifts throughout the disc.
-Phil Freeman, Jazziz