Despite familiar mannerisms from Myra Melford's dense waves of piano keys, Leroy Jenkins's thrashing violin, and Joseph Jarman's occasionally aggressive horn outbursts, this eponymous debut from Equal Interest keeps a surprisingly meditative mood throughout. Difficult free music gestures are skillfully submerged in airy themes and folkish melodies, unison passages, and regular pulses. And even when one of the three musicians takes a solo into outer space, the other two temper the sound with defiantly sweet and calming accompaniment. Jarman has apparently been involved in Buddhist practice over the last few years, and whatever he's been practicing seems to have infected not only his playing, but the others as well.
The most representative tune happens to be the weakest on the album. A simple piece built on a six-note repeating phrase, "Poem Song" trades in earthy and accessible sounds. At well over 10 minutes, the tune also goes on far too long for little reason, and with Melford's repetitive playing and the constant tinkling in the background, comes dangerously close to new age. The rest of the album fares much better, carving a middle route between folk simplicity and spikier sonic elements. On "Rondo for Jenny," Melford takes the harmonium in a completely different direction from her piano. In place of more characteristic staccato passages and developed space, Melford takes full advantage of the decay-resistant instrument, creating a continuous, morphing field of tones. Jarman and Jenkins then take turns emerging and folding back into Melford's backdrop.
On "B'Pale Night," Jarman's alto takes on an almost humorous quality, honking along over group passages like a cartoon soundtrack. Melford here is at her most striking, ranging forcefully and freely all over the keyboard while at the same time infusing her playing with eminently recognizable blues elements -- as if an ocean storm coughed up a barroom pianist on the beach. Jenkins's contributions tend to be more subtle than the others, but he is completely suited to this type of thing. As experimental as he gets, his soloing tends to reinforce a tune rather than depart from it, and his accompaniment boosts the music around him.