Myra Melford
  • Bryan Murray
  • Myra Melford

The final concert of the season in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNow series happens on Monday night, marking the end of the curatorial efforts here by Anna Clyne and Mason Bates. The pair have functioned as Mead Composers-in-Residence at the CSO for the past five years, and part of the job involves programming this new-music series—they’re going out on a high note, with work by some composers who deftly straddle the worlds of jazz, improvised music, and new music.

Few figures have accomplished that feat more eloquently and prolifically than John Zorn, whose 2002 piece for violinist Jennifer Choi, “Goetia,” will be performed Monday by Yuan Qing Yu. The work is a daunting meditation on black magic spelled out in eight movements, each of which use the same 277-pitch sequence; the variation appears in rhythm, dynamics, and color, and Zorn’s writing blurs any surface similarities in each movement.

A good chunk of the evening will focus on pianist and composer Myra Melford, an Evanston native who studied with local boogie-woogie icon Erwin Helfer. She gave a knockout performance at last year’s Chicago Jazz Festival, leading her agile quintet Snowy Egret, which earlier this year released a superb eponymous debut. The spiky music moves through all sorts of modes and moods, with high-grade improvisation functioning as a binding agent. Melford composed the music after reading Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s fictional history of the Americas called Memory of Fire. Ideas gestated for several years and much of the writing happened before she assembled the excellent combo to play it: cornetist Ron Miles, guitarist Liberty Ellman, bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. The music is stylistically varied, but there’s nothing dilettantish or pastiche-like about it—it flows with elegance and rigor, moving seamlessly between bluesy rhapsodies and ripping dissonance. Below you can hear the album’s final piece, “The Strawberry.”

For Monday’s program, however, Melford goes back into the past, including an epic work from the eponymous debut album of another superb quintet, The Same River Twice (Gramavision). That band featured trumpeter Dave Douglas, cellist Erik Friedlander, drummer Michael Sarin, and reedist Chris Speed. “The Large Ends the Way,” the closer from the same album, will be performed here with a band consisting of cellist Tomeka Reid, trumpeter Russ Johnson, drummer Mike Reed, bassist Larry Gray, and a violist, violinist, and clarinetist from the CSO. The piece was inspired by Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and a bit of text from 12th-century Japanese samurai Kiichi Hogen. The second Melford piece is the title track from her 2010 album The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12) by her sextet Be Bread—with Takeishi, trumpeter Cuong Vu, guitarist Brandon Ross, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, and drummer Matt Wilson. The piece, drawn from a quote by Sufi mystic poet Rumi, is propelled forward in violent yet lyrical fits—hurtling, simmering, and pushing—to create an exquisite tension ameliorated by meditative swaths of melody. You can check out the original recording below.

The program is rounded out with “Dichotomie” by Esa-Pekka Salonen—the Finnish composer who just ended a three-week residency conducting the CSO—and “Octet” by Marc Mellits, a terrific composer who teaches music at UIC.

The grand opening celebration of the new Fred Anderson Park happens this Sunday afternoon at 1 PM. The city park, located at 1611 S. Wabash, just a couple of blocks from the saxophonist’s legendary tavern the Velvet Lounge, features a marker celebrating the generous and influential musician, a cofounder of the AACM and a tireless mentor to many of the city’s most important improvisers. The 1.08-acre park features a built-in stage which will be used Sunday for a performance by the AACM’s Great Black Music Ensemble as well as a duo performance by Hamid Drake and Joshua Abrams. Anderson died in June 2010.

Today’s playlist:

Drew Gress, The Sky Inside (Pirouet)
David Berkman, Live at Smalls (Smalls Live)
Various artists, Boogaloo Pow Wow: Dancefloor Rendez-Vous in Young Nuyorica (Honest Jon’s)
Dai Fujikura, Ice (Kairos)
Chalachew Ashenafi & Ililta Band, Fano (Terp)