“Melford [has] reconnected music to motion, leaving today’s straight-laced young men in suits—who have dominated recent jazz—in her wake.” —The Observer (UK)
Is pushing a boulder up a mountain an onerous task or a welcome meditation? This is just one of the questions pondered by the creators of Knock on the Sky, an evening–length performance piece combining primordial movement, expansive jazz, musical structures influenced by traditional Japanese folk music, and live video within a subtly changing sonic and visual installation that is controlled by the performers in real time. The work has its world premiere at 8 pm in the Walker Art Center’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater on Friday and Saturday, May 12 and 13. Bandleader/pianist Myra Melford’s captivating blend of experimental jazz/blues, 20th–century composition, and Eastern folk tradition provides the foundation for this carefully structured improvisation. The work is a collaboration between Melford, New York City–based choreographer/dancer Dawn Akemi Saito, and Austrian architect Michael Haberz, joined by Los Angeles’ butoh master Oguri, bassist Stomu Takeishi, and trumpeter Cuong Vu.
Co-commissioned by the Walker Art Center in partnership with the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, the National Performance Network Creation Fund, the Tyler School of Art, and Providence Productions International. Knock on the Sky is a project of Providence Productions, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Austrian Cultural Forum New York City, public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and with generous support from The Japan Foundation through its Performing Arts JAPAN program.
The Walker’s commission and premiere are supported in part with funds from the William and Nadine McGuire Commissioning Fund, the Bush Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Presented in association with the National Performance Network.
Media partner: 89.3 The Current.
“From her first album in 1991, it was clear that this pianist and composer would stay around.” —New York Times.
Melford has appeared on more than 20 recordings, including nine as a leader, performed in more than 30 countries, won major awards for composition and piano performance, and worked with some of the world’s most innovative musicians. Melford’s staying power is the product of ceaseless musical travels; she’s always going somewhere.
At the keyboard, Melford recasts the blues and boogie-woogie of her Chicago hometown, folds in elements of the music of Eastern Europe and India, and blends them with the rangy, percussive avant-garde stylings she cultivated in studies with Don Pullen and Henry Threadgill. This personal musical vocabulary is further enriched by a lush lyricism and organized by an architectural sense of composition that she derived from classical training. Melford’s remarkable breadth is ordered by a thoughtful, expressive sensibility, evocatively described by Coda Magazine: “Myra Melford is at once a dancer, a romantic and a savage suckerpuncher at the bench . . . beating all hell out of the piano and making it beautiful.”
In the early 1990s Melford toured and recorded extensively with her acclaimed trio featuring Lindsey Horner on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums. Their 1993 recording Alive in the House of Saints was reissued by hatArt Records in 2001. In the late ’90s, she led a quintet, The Same River, Twice, which featured trumpeters Dave Douglas or Cuong Vu, reedist Chris Speed, cellist Erik Friedlander, and drummer Michael Sarin. They recorded two albums, their self-titled debut on Gramavision (1996) and Above Blue (Arabesque, 1999).
Melford currently leads or co-leads four groups, all of which have recorded in the past several years.
Melford’s ongoing search for new sounds and new directions in her music led her to the harmonium, a small hand-pump organ traditionally used in Indian and Pakistani classical and devotional music. Melford was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study North Indian music on the instrument with Sohanlal Sharma in Calcutta, where she was in residence from September 2000 through May 2001. The fruits of her studies are heard in some of her compositions for her groups The Tent and Be Bread.
In addition to leading her own ensembles for more than 15 years, Melford appears as a special guest on Jenny Scheinman’s Shaligaster (Tzadik), Joseph Jarman’s Lifetime Visions and Jarman’s and Leroy Jenkins’ Out of the Mist (Ocean Records); Butch Morris’ a Move (Sony) and Songs Out of My Trees (Soul Note); and Leroy Jenkins’ Themes and Improvisations on the Blues (CRI).
Melford is also active in music education. She is currently Assistant Professor of Improvisation and Jazz in the Music Department at the University of California at Berkeley. Her course, “Current Trends in Jazz and Improvisation-based Musics—A Performance Workshop,” allows students to explore the role of improvisation in contemporary jazz and creative music through performance. The course emphasizes developing the tools of an improviser as well as an aesthetic and critical knowledge of current practices. She earned a B.A. from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She completed her studies with Art Lande and Gary Peacock at the Cornish Institute in Seattle, and in private study with Henry Threadgill and Don Pullen in New York City.
Dawn Akemi Saito (butoh dancer/choreographer, actress/performance artist, and writer) received the prestigious Uchimura Prize in 2005 for her overall contribution to creating theater related to Japanese culture. She has collaborated with major innovative artists performing theirs and her own work in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and South America. Her multi-disciplinary works include: Blood Cherries, directed by Jonathan Rosenberg and Sabrina Peck; Mujyo, a butoh/music piece with musician/composer Joseph Jarman; and A Face of Our Own, a music/butoh piece with composer Myra Melford. Her plays include Ha, directed by Maria Mileaf; Pastime, a butoh/retro-futuristic piece directed by Ernest Abuba; and Dream Catcher, developed at Joseph Papp Public Theatre. Her work has been presented by DTW, New World Theater, New York Theater Workshop; Whitney Museum, Aaron Davis Hall, Public Theater, New York International Butoh Festival, CAL Arts, LaMaMa, and the Berkshire Theater Festival. She has performed and toured in numerous theater works by other artists and directors, including Roman Paska (Arden/Ardennes, Theatre du Rond-Point, Paris); Bill T. Jones (Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin at BAM); Ping Chong’s Deshima (LaMaMa, Japan and Singapore tour), and Elephant Memories (Boston and Bogota, Colombia tour); Dan Hurlin’s Hiroshima Maiden (St. Anns’ Warehouse); and JoAnne Akalaitis, as well as many others. She is a regular performer for Symphony Space’s “Selected Shorts,” broadcast nationally on NPR, and she has appeared in numerous films.
Michael Haberz (set/environmental design and video concept) is an Austrian-based architect. Born in 1954, he received his diploma in 1985. After gathering experiences in several local offices, he became a manager in a housing company. His own office was established in 1995. He won several prizes in architectural and town planning competitions. He is also an expert on barrier free design. In 1996, he was the curator of a year-long project at the House of Architecture, Graz, that was called “architecture and music,” which included a publication. He became well known for the design of his own residence and office unit, which became part of the Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary Architecture. He has received positive responses in the media for his latest projects, including his establishing new architecture in a medieval building of the Styrian government, part of which was an art project and an educational center for a bank that contains opportunities for art performances. Currently he is working on several projects, the most important two of which are the reinstallation of a gothic chapel by using new means and the multimedia butoh performance piece Knock on the Sky. His main interest is to extend the definition of space by developing new tools to create dynamic forms of space. In the case of the Knock on the Sky, he believes that space should be seen as an element which can be improvised with according to and along with music and dance in the development of the performance.
Oguri (choreographer, butoh dancer) is a native of Japan and began his career as a dancer with master Hijikata Tatsumi, the creator/inventor of the butoh dance form in post-World War II Japan. Oguri joined famed dancer Min Tanaka’s company, Mai-Juku, in 1985, and for five years lived, worked, and helped establish Tanaka’s farm outside of Tokyo.. A resident of southern California since 1990, Oguri formed Body Weather Laboratory USA in 1993, a forum for investigating the body and dance (founded by Min Tanaka in Japan, 1978). In 1993, he also formed Renzoku (continuum) Dance Company with Roxanne Steinberg. He has performed throughout Europe and the U.K., Israel, South Africa, and the U.S., and continues to tour worldwide with composer/percussionist Adam Rudolph. Oguri received the Irvine Fellowship in Dance for the research and development of Height of Sky, a site-specific dance project that took place in the desert of Joshua Tree. It was an investigation of the relationship between dancer and environment, and it explored the development of his identity as a Japanese dancer in America.
Stomu Takeishi (bassist) was born in Mito, Japan, in 1964, and came to the U.S. in 1983 to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Upon completion of his degree in 1986, he moved to Manhattan to continue his studies at the New School. He has been based in New York City ever since. His performance history is extensive, including concerts with Don Cherry, Henry Threadgill, Dave Liebmann, Mick Goodrick, Paul Motian, Myra Melford, and Cuong Vu. Over the last 20 years, Stomu’s reputation as a talented and innovative bass player has earned him features in many jazz festivals, including the Montreux and the North Sea Festivals. Stomu has recorded with many outstanding artists, including Paul Motian (Electric Be Bop), Henry Threadgill (Where’s Your Cup?), Myra Melford (Crush), Cuong Vu (Come Play with Me, Bound, Pure), Badal Roy (Day Break), David Tronzo (Roots, Yo Hey), and Erik Friedlander (Topaz, Skin).
Cuong Vu (trumpeter), considered to be “one of the most distinctive stylists on New York’s downtown music scene” (Downbeat, March 1998), has been garnering rave reviews as one of the leaders of a new generation of innovative musicians. Most recently he was mentioned as one of the top 50 young Jazz Artists in an article called “The New Masters” from the British magazine Classic CD. Since moving to New York in 1994, Cuong has been quite active leading his groups JackHouse, Scratcher, Vu-tet, and the Cuong Vu trio. It has been with these groups that he has been breaking new musical ground by developing his own unique language in both his improvisations and compositions. Cuong has toured internationally and in the U.S., as well as performing regularly as a leader and a sideman in the downtown creative music scene. He has performed and/or recorded with Pat Metheny, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Mitchell Froom, Cibo Matto, Chris Speed, Dave Douglas, Gerry Hemingway, Myra Melford, Dougie Bowne, and Holly Palmer. In addition to his many collaborations, Cuong released two recordings as a leader in 2000, Bound (OmniTone) and Pure (Knitting Factory Records), both of which were among the top ten picks for best album of 2000 (Jazziz, May 2001). His most recent CD, Come Play With Me (Knitting Factory Records), was also picked among the top five releases of 2001 (Jazztimes, May 2002).
Tickets to Knock on the Sky are $20 ($16 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.
Open Ended Gallery
Thursday, May 11, 7pm
Join members of the Myra Melford/Dawn Saito/Oguri company for an engaging music and movement performance that takes its cue from their new work, Knock on the Sky, which will have its the world premiere in the Walker’s McGuire Theater on May 12–13.
Butoh Master Class
Saturday, May 13, 11 am
$10 ($5 Walker members)
Dawn Saito offers an intensive and informative 90-minute butoh class. Limited to 16 participants of any skill level.