REVIEW: Myra Melford – Snowy Egret, and Lauren Kinsella Trio at Kings Place (2018 EFG LJF)

Lauren Kinsella at King's Place
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2018. All rights reserved.

Myra Melford – Snowy Egret, and Lauren Kinsella Trio 
(Kings Place Hall One. 22 November 2018. 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

This was a concert of two unexpectedly contrasting halves by two award-winning protagonists, with American pianist, Myra Melford, celebrating the release of a new album with her group, Snowy Egret, and the opening set from Lauren Kinsella's trio, taken up by her new, extended composition, Radicle, "a plant's first root …," as she explained.

Myra Melford is also part of the lively collective, Big Air (reviewed here), which offers a link to the album's title, The Other Side Of Air (Firehouse 12), Snowy Egret's second, and, being 'the other side', perhaps explains why the set was not quite the maverick excursion that one has come to expect from this renowned improviser and composer.

Theirs was a neatly executed performance, but with a sense of formal constraint. The material did not transcend boundaries or break new ground, and was concentrated in a predictable jazz zone that has been visited many times. Overall, it felt as though Melford's experienced and virtuosic quartet were going through the motions rather than pushing the envelope.

Drummer Gerald Cleaver (seen with Lotte Anker here), drawing a drumstick across the surface of a cymbal to release gently jarring, high pitched tones, led in to Small Thoughts where bassist Stomu Takeishi (seen with Henry Threadgill - reviewed), guitarist Liberty Ellman (seen with Rosetta Trio - reviewed) and cornettist, Ron Miles, bounced off each other with loose extemporisations before a tighter thread was introduced.

The fine-featured Melford launched City Of Illusion with piano sustains and traced out melodic-chordal synchrony in the mid-registers to open the way for the cornettist's clear, sharp tones, while the barefoot Takeishi stroked the fretless five-string bass.

The title track brought out nimble fretboard work from Ellman, which was, nevertheless, rooted in safe, jazz-rock territory with the runs running in to each other rather than making distinctive statements. A gentle guitar-piano conversation ensued before Melford really took off with Cleaver and Takeishi holding the line. The dreamy atmospherics of Turn and Coda with Ron Miles' warm, muted tones and Cleaver's dragged brushes contrasted with their energetic, percussive encore.
Myra Melford with Ron Miles and Stomu Takeishi at King's Place
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2018. All rights reserved.

To open the concert, Lauren Kinsella's major work was based on interests stimulated in part by Paul Wohlleben's book, The Hidden Life of Trees and Gordon Hempton's activities as an acoustic ecologist, the collector of environmental sounds who values silence. With saxophonist, Tom Challenger and drummer, Dave Smith, Kinsella opened up an innovative sound world, imaginatively pushing the boundaries of the sung and the spoken, interwoven with synchronised passages with Challenger and exploratory excursions from Smith where they stepped out on to those border areas that touch on the uncharted.

Following an intriguing opening percussive essay from Smith, that had him handling mallets, tapping miniature cymbals and hand tapping toms, he set down an invisible beat that opened the doors for Kinsella's combination of narrative and other-worldly vocalising and Challenger's carefully restrained, yet, shimmering sax drifts.

Kinsella's vocal range links to the pioneering practices of Meredith Monk and Joan La Barbara, evident as she broke in to vocalese suggesting a gently energised, whispery language from not only another country but maybe even another planet. There were hummings and growlings, and sudden silences prefaced brief narratives on the lives within the forest communities of plants and trees. Refreshingly open-spirited, knowingly risk-taking, this thirty-minute trio performance of Kinsella's Radicle was a fully engaging and substantial achievement, a career milestone in many ways.

Snowy Egret
Myra Melford – piano
Ron Miles – cornet
Liberty Ellman – electric guitar
Stomu Takeishi – electric bass
Gerald Cleaver – drums

Lauren Kinsella Trio
Lauren Kinsella – vocals
Tom Challenger – tenor saxophone
Dave Smith - drums

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