Beautiful news to report: Despite the city permitting red-tape scare in April that threatened to put the kibosh on its operation, the one-of-a-kind cultural jewel that is the Timucua White House is back in the business of doing what it does like literally no other: giving Orlando artistic terroir. I could think of no better way to celebrate the fact than to take in another show there, immediately. And I can’t imagine a more emphatic riposte and statement of the place’s civic worth than a show of deep fine-arts caliber, credentials and connection as the recent one featuring accomplished pianist Myra Melford (May 30).
The event – co-presented by vanguard Orlando promoter the Civic Minded 5 – was an outreach concert by the pacesetting Atlantic Center for the Arts, where Melford is currently a master artist doing a May residency. And according to CM5 host Matt Gorney, it was her first Orlando show in nearly 30 years.
Melford’s performance was in two segments – solo and with ACA associate artist Angela Morris on sax – but it was her unaccompanied play that was the most contained, complete and stunning. Performing mostly pieces inspired directly by the paintings of artist and friend Don Reich, Melford stretched the bounds of jazz and contemporary classical. Her experimentation, however, isn’t the kind that confronts with heavy-handed and purely conceptual atonality or other jarringly non-musical tactics. She defies conventionalism as much as any self-respecting avant-gardist, but her language has clear virtuosity with impressive structure and remarkable intelligibility. In other words, you don’t need to be a hard-core free-jazz freak to get down with what she’s doing.
Melford weaves together familiar drifts of classic jazz with truly arty adventure in ways that feel more organic than hybrid. Her music’s spirit flits with improvisational heart from nervy to whimsical, challenging to playful. Her brilliant technical agnosticism goes anywhere from fleet-fingered scholarship to surprisingly wild artistry, featuring full-hand and arm playing that included knuckle rolls, palm strokes, hand chops, fist mashes and elbow leans:
But even with all those feral flourishes, and even in climaxes of mania, discipline always defines Melford’s execution. And it commanded standing ovations. Yes, all is right again in the world.
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