Snowy Egret (enja records)

Myra Melford

Released March 2015

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2015




Premiering live in 2012, with roots that reach back to the mid-’90s, Snowy Egret features the renowned pianist-composer Myra Melford leading and collaborating with four of the most compelling musicians currently at work in jazz and the avant-garde: cornetist Ron Miles, guitarist Liberty Ellman, bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi and drummer (and MacArthur Fellow) Tyshawn Sorey. On two raved-about releases, 2018’s The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12) and the band’s 2015 self-titled debut (Enja/Yellowbird), an array of concepts and strategies are in play. Hard-angled counterpoint, grooving rhythms, free playing, beautiful melody and harmony, through composition, swing and other elements appear and then dissipate, as the ensemble reconfigures in varying combinations and digs into the material with an intuitive sense of interplay. “There’s a lot of trust,” Melford says, “and there’s a lot of willingness to let go of what was supposed to happen and go with what is happening in the moment.” More than any of her acclaimed ensembles thus far, Snowy Egret is the Melford vehicle that best embodies her unique, evolving creative language—a seamless, shifting blend of composition and improvisation, and a probing of the space shared between dynamic small-group jazz and contemporary chamber music. As DownBeat commented, “The group has clearly internalized Melford’s conception in a profound manner, demonstrating remarkable intimacy and grace in its execution, truly extending the composer’s vision without surrendering individualism.” In San Francisco in 2013, Snowy Egret gave the world premiere of Melford’s multisensory experience Language of Dreams, for which she received a Guggenheim Fellowship. In the Jazz Journalists Association’s 2016 Jazz Awards, the band was named “Midsize Ensemble of the Year.”

Track Listing:

1. Language (Myra Melford) 05:27

2. Night of Sorrow (Myra Melford) 06:43

3. Promised Land (Myra Melford) 05:43

4. Ching Ching/For Love of Fruit (Myra Melford) 05:31

5. The Kitchen (Myra Melford) 06:55

6. Times of Sleep and Fate (Myra Melford) 05:50

7. Little Pockets/Everybody Pays Taxes (Myra Melford) 04:32

8. First Protest (Myra Melford) 05:29

9. The Virgin of Guadalupe (Myra Melford) 08:33

10. The Strawberry (Myra Melford) 05:36


Myra Melford: piano, melodica

Ron Miles: cornet

Liberty Ellman: guitar

Stomu Takeishi: bass guitar

Tyshawn Sorey: drums

Recorded December 2013 at Stadiumred, New York

Recorded and Mixed by Tom Lazarus

Mastered by Christoph Stickel

Cover and Sleeve Photos by Gil Corre

Artwork: Gold Unlimited, Franziska Erdle

Produced by Hans Wendl


Since the mid-’90s, pianist/composer Myra Melford’s quintets such as the Extended Ensemble, the Same River, Twice, the Tent, and Be Bread have been among her most adventurous and inimitable groupings — and so one greets the arrival of her latest five-piece, Snowy Egret, with high anticipation. Released by Enja/Yellowbird in March 2015, Snowy Egret’s eponymous debut album features Melford compositions inspired by Uruguayan author, historian, and journalist Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy; the quintet performed the music in November 2013 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as part of Melford’s multimedia Language of Dreams project, which also included dance, video, and spoken word. Although the hourlong Snowy Egret is divorced from the visual and spoken elements of Language of Dreams, it stands strongly as a purely musical experience, with the pianist joined by her self-described “killer band” featuring cornetist Ron Miles, guitarist Liberty Ellman, longtime Melford collaborator bassist Stomu Takeishi, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. The perpetually exploratory Melford is always crossing and blurring boundaries — stylistic, cultural, geographic — and never more so than on Snowy Egret, which, despite the music’s South American literary inspiration, expands far beyond the expectations of “Latin jazz” to encompass the full range of her creative jazz sensibilities.

Before evolving into a strong feature for the leader’s soulfully exploratory pianistics, the pensive “Night of Sorrow” does find Ellman’s introductory passage imbued with a Latin feel, but elsewhere the music often speaks of the universality inherent in Galeano’s prose. And Galeano’s words inspire plenty of roiling energy, with Sorey a forceful engine of the band’s momentum, powering through the thematic angularities of the opening “Language” while supporting Ellman and Miles features with no shortage of precisely executed accents and dynamic nuance. Sorey rolls with abandon through the jagged stops and starts of “The Kitchen,” which includes a standout performance from Melford, bold and muscular in the lower register and unbridled as she takes her solo higher with inexorable force. Miles might be heard as the “soloist” in the sublime full-group improvisation of “Promised Land,” but his mastery of space provides plenty of room for the other bandmembers to stand out in the mix, as Melford and Ellman stretch the underlying harmonics with their abrupt phrasing and Takeishi flirts with funk.

In an echo of Ellman’s mood-setting intro to “Night of Sorrow,” Takeishi offers up a rumbling, harmonics-laden unaccompanied bass feature to commence “Times of Sleep and Fate,” which builds from floating, contemplative ambience into a calm but uneasy resolution. After the collective tumult and abrupt finish of “First Protest,” the appropriately Latin-tinged “The Virgin of Guadalupe” smoothly and effortlessly rises from balladic loveliness into freer jazz expression while never losing its thread. And the album ends on a rollicking note as Melford brings the blues to the celebratory groove of closer “The Strawberry.” Snowy Egret stands equal to any of Myra Melford’s quintet recordings of the past two decades — and that’s high praise indeed.

Dave Lynch (AllMusic)