The New York City Jazz Record: MZM

by Mark Keresman, The New York City Jazz Record
November 2017

There are few high-wire acts as challenging and precarious as collective free improvisation. The results can dazzle, delightfully confound or seem like the by-product of musicians playing near each other. Myra Melford is a dynamic and flexible pianist, an acolyte of the late Don Pullen; Zeena Parkins is a multi-instrumentalist who draws a unique range of sounds from her electric harp in assorted contexts. Aside from her ability on the Japanese koto, Miya Masaoka encompasses free improv, electro-acoustic performance situations and orchestral compositions. All three bring this wealth of experience to MZM.

The nervy, tense “Bug” would fit well into the soundtrack of one of those nature-goes-berserk-on-humanity movies—deep, subterranean rumbles, brittle plucked strings and inexorably menacing motifs maintain claustrophobic ambiance for nearly five minutes. With its long sustained electronic tones, “Saturn” evokes the ethereal soundscapes of Robert Fripp and Robert Rich, but bent koto notes and spare piano provide moments accentuating the mood of lovely, icy stillness. “Taurus” calls to mind the sounds of the sea—waves crashing in the distance, wails and calls of seabirds, clatter of ships’ workings and the almost-eerie calm these sounds conjure in their collectivity—this track is MZM at its most impressionistic and cinematic. “Ant” is near-collage of cathartic crashes, surreal bashes and desert-dry prepared piano-twangs and harp-zings.

There are occasional passages where some water-treading occurs but those moments are as few as far between. These players do an admirable job of listening to and interacting, building upon each others’ flights, fragments and stories. Moreover, this trio has genuinely riveting moments where you may well wonder, “How ARE they making that sound?” MZM is a most welcome journey into mystery.

For more information, visit Parkins is at The Stone Nov. 16th and 26th.