LIVE: Dialogue @ Sanctuary for Independent Media, 11/16/14

(photo by Rudy Lu)
(photo by Rudy Lu)

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu, Bender Melon

Okay, first, let’s posit that duet concerts are not like other concerts. You’ve got two people doing the work of four or five, in addition to getting their music across to the crowd. That it takes accomplished players to make it work goes without saying, but it goes farther than that: There needs to be a shared language, an understanding that tells one another who’s got the lead, who’s got the foundation, when things start and when things finish, and whose solo is it, anyway? It sounds complicated, but I’ve seen a bunch of duet shows, and the arrangement is pretty standard usually.

Pianist Myra Melford and clarinetist Ben Goldberg of Dialogue are decidedly not “usual.” You’re dealing with two accomplished musicians who think 10 steps ahead of most folks at any one time, and whose respective discographies include enough square pegs to make every round hole wave the white flag. The Box doesn’t even enter into the equation, let alone thinking outside of it. What happens when Melford and Goldberg get together is mercurial, to say the least, and the near-full house at the Sanctuary for Independent Media saw that in no uncertain terms. But again, it was more than just two extraordinary players having a musical conversation; it was two people conversing in a completely unique language that was incredibly beautiful, utterly impenetrable, and wholly beyond the “standard” set by many others.

Goldberg kicked off Melford’s “The Kitchen” by simply blowing air into his clarinet – a little more, and a little more, until he finally began to play a meditation in the clear. Melford came in, and they began playing the same line. Melford picked up the comp as Goldberg worked the melody… and from there, it was modern dance, with the players separating and coming together and separating again, trading the places in solo and support with the blink of an eye and then going off on their own respective hejiras. There was a phone book’s worth of sheet music on both music stands, but I doubt Melford’s own opening solo was in any way transcribed.

I decided the piece was called “The Kitchen” because that’s what Melford threw at her piano. We’re talking cascades of notes that make you think you’re riding the rapids on the Colorado River, as Melford literally attacked the poor keyboard with forearms, elbows and fists. Goldberg threw in a note or a line here and there, but apart from that, it was mixed martial arts as applied to playing the piano. Goldberg did get to stretch the outside of his own envelope, taking his licorice stick to the absolute squeaking top. If there was a time signature involved, it was created using the New Math. All that mattered was the intensity and the dialogue and the modern musical dance, which somehow found its way back to Square One through blinding parallel monologues, leaving us all catching our breath – audience and musicians alike.

This was not jazz, and it was not classical music, but you could hear both genres in the dizzying music Melford and Goldberg spun out over the course of 90 minutes. “Passing Phase” (a title inspired by an Elliott Smith lyric) had an actual groove, with Goldberg taking the nominal lead and ending the piece by “counting off” by tapping valves on his clarinet. They morphed a track off of Goldberg’s sextet disc 12 Minor (currently out of print because the label Avant is long gone), and Goldberg kinda-sorta rewrote an Ornette Coleman title called “I Heard It on the Radio,” presenting us with an Ornette-inspired piece called “You Can’t Write a Song Called ‘I Heard It on the Radio’ Any More.” Some of the music had titles, one of them didn’t, and Melford called a couple of audibles on the set list near the end of the show. Whatever they did, it was one of the most interesting conversations you’d ever want to overhear, with each participant adding points and context to take the dialogue higher and wider. In a seeming contradiction, they closed the night by “speaking” someone else’s words, in the form of Andrew Hill’s “Images of Time,” but Melford and Goldberg’s respect for the composer was patently obvious.

“It’s nice to have some sanctuary,” Goldberg told us at one point, earning a laugh from the crowd. Then he got a few gasps by telling us that, not only had he and Melford finished recording a record at Firehouse 12 in Hartford that morning, but most of the music we were going to hear that night had only been written in the last 24 hours. Goldberg also explained as the night went on that every time he and Melford play together (something they’ve been doing for over five years,) it’s a unique experience, because things always change, and new things are discovered. “Everything we do is kind of a world premiere,” he added.

The Sanctuary was webcasting this show, so this “world premiere” was captured, but the best thing to do with this duo is to expect the unexpected. If you want this music to stay the same, buy the disc when it comes out. Otherwise, know (and rejoice) that things will be different the next time you see Myra Melford and Ben Goldberg in concert.

Sean Wilson’s review at the Sanctuary for Independent Media
See more of Rudy Lu’s photographs of the concert at Rudy Lu Photos
See more of Bender Mellon’s photographs of the concert at Sounding Stone

NOTE: Next up on the Sanctuary’s jazz concert calendar is Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence at 7pm on Saturday (December 6). Joining drummer Brown in concert will be saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and guitarist Chris Sholar. Tickets are $15. Or you can GO HERE to enter to win FREE TICKETS to the concert…

(photo by Rudy Lu)
(photo by Rudy Lu)
(photo by Rudy Lu)
(photo by Rudy Lu)
(photo by Bender Melon)
(photo by Bender Melon)
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