Marty Ehrlich / Myra Melford: Spark! (2007)
Multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich and pianist Myra Melford share more than a virtuosic touch and rugged lyricism. Their work embodies a single-minded approach to duo playing that lends an air of cohesion to the most abstract improvisation, allowing their ideas to blend to the point where Ehrlich's tone becomes a growling, vibrato-laden extension of Melford's sensitive voicings and provocative counterpoints or a serene answer to one of the pianist's jarring exclamations.
Spark! opens and closes with "Hymn, a bluesy Ehrlich original that has become a mainstay of the duo's repertoire over their decade-plus association. The first take opens with a pointillistic exchange between Ehrlich's alto and Melford's insistent middle register before rolling to a boil and bubbling over into open, probing solos. Ehrlich is first, sticking to staccato exclamations before laying down a series of searching wails and melodic fragments that Melford transforms and weaves into a gospel-tinged statement.
As improvisers, Ehrlich and Melford intuitively follow the arc of each piece rather than succumbing to the traditional roles of soloist and accompanist. Ehrlich's doleful clarinet opens "For Leroy his ode to the late violinist Jenkinswith an impressionistic run that Melford seamlessly prolongs in the piano's upper register. Complementing Ehrlich's line while echoing and anticipating his melodic statements, Melford's piano is more a catalyst than a supporter. Her sharp lines and dense chord clusters thicken the mournful air on "For Leroy and add a gnawing tension to her knotty original "I See A Horizon.
As duos go, it doesn't get much better than this pair. Their empathy is palpable across nine tracks and the resulting music is as nakedly honest as it is heartfelt and moving.
Track Listing: Hymn Pt 1; A Generation Comes and Another Goes; I See a Horizon; For Leroy; Up Do; Night; Blue Delhi; Images Of Time; Hymn Pt 2.
Personnel: Marty Ehrlich: reeds; Myra Melford: piano.