Myra Melford Tanya Kalmanovitch
"Heart Mountain"

Heart Mountain

Review by Brad Walseth

Improvisation is at the heart of jazz, and Heart Mountain is pure improvisation at heart, at times as exhilarating and challenging as mountain climbing. Violist/violinist Tanya Kalmanovitch and pianist Myra Melford recorded this album on a sound stage at The Banff Centre in Alberta, and the pieces created were entirely the result of free improvisation, something I found shocking considering how well formed and complete the pieces are. There was little discussion beforehand about what they would play, and instead the two artists relied on unspoken and live musical communication. In the hands of less sympathetic or talented musicians this could have been a disaster, but these two adventurers create and explore mysterious landscapes together.

Kalmanovitch was born in Alberta, studied at Julliard, and is now one of New York City's rising stars - playing modern jazz, classical and improvised music. Not only has she appeared with artists like John Cage, Tom Rainey, and Mark Turner, among many others, but the artist is a member of the faculty at the New England Conservatory, teaches classes world wide, is a founding member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground, and is involved with too many other musical endeavors to list here. Chicago-born pianist Melford is equally ubiquitous, having led her own ensembles for the last 15 years, recorded two albums with her acclaimed trio, and appeared on recordings by Jenny Scheinman, Joseph Jarman, Leroy Jenkins and more. A former student of Art Lande, Gary Peacock, Henry Threadgill and Don Pullen, Melford is also is actively engaged in musical education at the University of California at Berkeley.

This duo was first brought together by lucky accident when the pair improvised a duet concert at the 2003 Guelph International Jazz Festival. The pairing was well received, while the two artists found that they were extremely compatible in their interaction. This creative chemistry and focus is seemingly enhanced by the fact that both individuals share an interest in the music of India and have studied Indian music extensively. Kalmanovitch studied South India's Karnatic music in Chennai, while Melford received a Fulbright scholarship to study the harmonium, a small hand pump organ used in Indian and Pakastani classical and devotional music. Although they do not actually utilize Indian scales, their music does seem to be infused with the feeling of an airy, Himalayan spirituality, and Melford's harmonium does make a welcome appearance in the compelling "Annapurna."

The two musicians take turns taking the lead, while the other provides sensitive counterpoint or texture. Both players use silence well - treating it as an equal force, while Melford especially makes use of unusual sounds from her piano - plucking the piano strings at times, while at other times I suspect foreign objects have been inserted that add different timbres to the keyboard resonance. As in a two character-play, it is difficult to keep things interesting with just two primary sounds, but Melford and Kalmanovitch are adept at coaxing unusual shades and colors from their instruments and taking things into unexpected directions. Most of the "songs" are 1-2 min. vignettes that perhaps resemble modern classical music more than "jazz," some shimmer like a cold mountain lake, some stab the heart, but throughout, there can be no questioning the honesty and bravery of these two extraordinary young women who scale the heights without ropes and harnesses.

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Contact Brad Walseth and JazzChicago.net at bwalseth60@aol.com

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