When Myra Melford was taking piano lessons from Erwin Helfer as a teenager in the northern suburbs, could she ever have imagined they’d both be featured artists at the Chicago Jazz Festival? Maybe, maybe not. But if there’s one thing Melford has never lacked, it’s vision. From her challenging piano trios of the early ’90s to such strikingly original bands as The Same River, Twice and Be Bread to her new Trio M and first solo piano album, she has played a sizable role in helping redefine modern jazz.
As a pianist and composer, Melford has drawn from free jazz (Don Pullen and Cecil Taylor are major influences), blues and boogie woogie and classical music, all of which are marked by the pursuit of what Albert Ayler called spiritual unity. As a Fulbright Scholar, she studied harmonium in India. As a recent Guggenheim Fellow, she devised Language of Dreams, a lovely, penetrating, multi-disciplinary piece from which she’ll play excerpts tonight with yet another standout ensemble, Snowy Egret.
The quintet includes five-string acoustic bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi, a member of her Crush Trio as well as Henry Threadgill’s Make a Move; the singular cornetist Ron Miles, known for his work with Bill Frisell; devoted Threadgillian Liberty Ellman on guitar and the powerful and expansive Tyshawn Sorey on drums.